No Accounting: How Two UMass Amherst Scientists Are Balancing the Planet’s Natural Carbon Budget


New research is first to pin down the mechanics of CO2 fluxes in rivers and streams

A pair of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently published the results of a study that is the first to take a process-based modeling approach to understand how much CO2 rivers and streams contribute to the atmosphere. The team focused on the East River watershed in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, and found that their new approach is far more accurate than traditional approaches, which overestimated CO2 emissions by up to a factor of 12. An early online version of the research was recently published by Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

Scientists refer to the total CO2 circulating through the earth and the atmosphere as the carbon budget. This budget includes both anthropogenic sources of CO2, such as those that come from burning fossil fuels, as well as more natural sources of CO2 that are part of the planet’s regular carbon cycle. “In the era of global climate change,” says Brian Saccardi, graduate student in geosciences at UMass Amherst and lead author of the new research, “we need to know what the baseline levels of CO2 are, where they come from and how those physical process of carbon emission work.” Without such a baseline, it makes it difficult to know how the earth is changing as CO2 levels increase.

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