River Basins Can Hold Carbon for 17,000 Years

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Researchers say the soils and sediments of the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin are able to store carbon for thousands of years, a fact they warn could portend increased rates of carbon dioxide emissions as such vulnerable regions are exposed to the effects of climate change.

Using radiocarbon dating, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that organic carbon can remain for 500 to 17,000 years, despite extraordinarily high rates of physical erosion and sediment transport within the basin that drains the Himalayas.

Downstream, within the Gangetic floodplain, the carbon resides from 1,500 to 3,500 years. The longer the carbon remains within the soil, the longer it is kept out of the atmosphere, said Valier Galy, a WHOI researcher and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

But as rising temperatures destabilize soils and “ancient” carbon stored within the Ganges basin and elsewhere in the world, this could lead to more carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere, further hastening warming.

In another new study, researchers at Rice University suggest that a massive release of methane from under the Arctic seafloor could have triggered a major climate shift 56 million years ago.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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