Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Greenhouse gas impact of hydroelectric reservoirs downgraded

Date:
August 1, 2011
Source:
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Summary:
Scientists have amassed the largest data set to date on greenhouse gas emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs. Their analysis posits that these human-made systems emit about one-sixth of the carbon dioxide and methane previously attributed to them.

Located in the State of Mato Grosso, the APM Manso Dam impounds the Manso River and has a capacity of 5,600,000,000 m3 and a surface area of 357 km2.
Credit: Fábio Roland

An international team of scientists has amassed the largest data set to date on greenhouse gas emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs. Their analysis, published August 1 in the online version of Nature Geoscience, posits that these human-made systems emit about 1/6 of the carbon dioxide and methane previously attributed to them.

Prior studies based on more limited data cautioned that hydroelectric reservoirs could be a significant and large source of both carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere.

Through an analysis of 85 globally-distributed hydroelectric reservoirs, the authors revealed that these systems emit 48 million metric tons of carbon annually, a downgrade from earlier estimates of 321 million metric tons. Further putting things in perspective, hydroelectric reservoirs are responsible for less than 16% of the total carbon dioxide and methane emissions from all types of human-made reservoirs combined.

"Our analysis indicates that hydroelectric reservoirs are not major contributors to the greenhouse gas problem," comments Dr. Jonathan Cole, a limnologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's authors. "But there are some caveats. To date, only 17% of potential hydroelectric reservoir sites have been exploited, and impacts vary based on reservoir age, size, and location."

Carbon dioxide and methane are two of the main greenhouse gases created by human activities. Carbon dioxide is produced during the combustion of nearly any organic material; methane has a variety of industrial sources. Both gases are also produced naturally, particularly in wetlands and lakes.

When rivers are dammed to make the reservoirs needed for hydroelectricity, flooding creates lake-like conditions that generate carbon dioxide and methane. Emissions are the highest following reservoir construction, due to decomposing vegetation and soil organic matter. As reservoirs age, emissions decline, with cold-water systems stabilizing more rapidly than their warm-water counterparts.

Lead author MSc. Nathan Barros, of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora further explains, "The bottom line is that per unit of energy, hydroelectric generation produces much less carbon dioxide and methane emissions than previously thought, but impacts are not equal across all landscapes."

The amount of greenhouse gases generated by hydroelectric reservoirs depends on where they are built, with the team's analysis indicating that emissions are correlated with latitude and the amount of biomass in the watershed. With Barros adding, "Reservoirs in tropical locations, such as the Amazon, emit more methane and carbon throughout their lifecycles."

Hydroelectricity supplies an estimated 20% of the world's electricity and accounts for more than 85% of electricity from renewable sources. Future development is expected globally.

The paper's authors urge careful consideration of site location and design. "During the environmental impact phase, it should be a goal to minimize the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emitted per unit of energy generated," Cole notes.

To truly tease apart the emissions generated by hydroelectricity, the authors also call for a study that assesses a site's carbon budget before and after reservoir construction. Pre- and post flooding analysis would clarify the net carbon impact of hydroelectric reservoirs.

Other contributors to the paper included Drs. Lars J. Tranvik, Yves T. Prairie, David Bastviken, Vera L. M. Huszar, Paul del Giorgio, and Fábio Roland.

The work was supported by grants from FURNAS Centrais Elétricas and from the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nathan Barros, Jonathan J. Cole, Lars J. Tranvik, Yves T. Prairie, David Bastviken, Vera L. M. Huszar, Paul del Giorgio, Fábio Roland. Carbon emission from hydroelectric reservoirs linked to reservoir age and latitude. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1211

Cite This Page:

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "Greenhouse gas impact of hydroelectric reservoirs downgraded." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110801134733.htm>.
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. (2011, August 1). Greenhouse gas impact of hydroelectric reservoirs downgraded. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110801134733.htm
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "Greenhouse gas impact of hydroelectric reservoirs downgraded." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110801134733.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

AFP (Apr. 22, 2014) — For months California has suffered from a historic drought. The lack of water is worrying for farmers and ranchers, but for gold diggers it’s a stroke of good fortune. With water levels low, normally inaccessible areas are exposed. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — With only three weeks until Minnesota's fishing opener, many are wondering if the ice will be gone. Some of the Northland lakes are still covered by up to three feet of ice, causing concern that just like last year, the lakes won't be ready. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — With Pacific ocean water already showing signs of warming, the NOAA says there's about a 66 percent chance the event will begin before November. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, but is Pyongyang just bluffing this time? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins