Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Long-term carbon storage in Ganges basin may portend global warming worsening

Date:
November 15, 2011
Source:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Summary:
Scientists have found that carbon is stored in the soils and sediments of the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin for a surprisingly long time, making it likely that global warming could destabilize the pool of carbon there and in similar places on Earth, potentially increasing the rate of CO2 release into the atmosphere.

The upper Kali Gandaki River drains semi-arid and scarcely vegetated regions north of the Himalayan Range, where conditions promote very long organic carbon residence time in soils.
Credit: Photo by Valier Galy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists have found that carbon is stored in the soils and sediments of the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin for a surprisingly long time, making it likely that global warming could destabilize the pool of carbon there and in similar places on Earth, potentially increasing the rate of CO2 release into the atmosphere. The study, published in the current online edition of Nature Geoscience, examined the radiocarbon content of river sediments collected from the Ganges-Brahmaputra system draining the Himalayas. The basin, the scientists say, "represents one of the largest sources of terrestrial biospheric carbon to the ocean."

Related Articles


Using radiocarbon dating, WHOI researchers Valier Galy and Timothy Eglinton found that organic carbon resides in the basin for anywhere from 500 to 17,000 years. Downstream, in the Gangetic floodplain, the longest residence times range from 1,500 to 3,500 years.

The relatively long carbon residence time in the Ganges system was a "surprise," Galy said, primarily because of the region's dynamically high rates of physical erosion and sediment transport.

"We thought it was likely that the organic matter there was young," Galy said. "But what gets exported there sits in the soil for quite some time -- 3,000 years on average. That's pretty old."

That has "big implications for the global carbon cycle," he said, because "the longer it is stored in the soil, the longer it is kept away from the atmosphere" as CO2. The buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere is thought to be largely responsible for global warming.

The good news is that the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin "is not contributing rapidly to CO2 in the atmosphere," Galy said. The bad news is that makes the region more susceptible to global warming.

"If carbon has a short residence time in soils, global warming can't speed up the rates too much of exporting carbon to the atmosphere," he explained. But if carbon resides in the soil for thousands of years, as it does now in much of the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin, global warming can speed the transfer of carbon from soils and sediments to the atmosphere. It can do so by warming the region and stimulating microbial decomposition of organic carbon reserves there.

Various climate projections predict a 4-degree C warming in the region by 2050, according to the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. "Future environmental changes may dictate that carbon will not stay as long in the soil," he said. "If this happens, the net source of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase."

Galy notes that even though there have been few similar studies in other "low latitude" regions, the results of the WHOI study could portend global warming effects elsewhere in the world. "Our study shows that ancient soil carbon exists in a globally significant tropical system," he said. "We therefore hypothesize that similar stocks of ancient carbon may exist elsewhere at low latitude.

"Global warming would likely destabilize this ancient carbon, generating an extra flux of CO2 to the atmosphere, hence further warming.

"This may not be too important over the short-term -- decades, for example," he said. "But over a longer time scale -- tens of thousands of years -- it can be important."

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Valier Galy, Timothy Eglinton. Protracted storage of biospheric carbon in the Ganges–Brahmaputra basin. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1293

Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Long-term carbon storage in Ganges basin may portend global warming worsening." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109093943.htm>.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2011, November 15). Long-term carbon storage in Ganges basin may portend global warming worsening. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109093943.htm
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Long-term carbon storage in Ganges basin may portend global warming worsening." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109093943.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 29, 2015) Time lapse video captures a blanket of clouds amassing in the Grand Canyon -- the result of a rare meteorological process called "cloud inversion." Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Biofuels aren&apos;t the best alternative to fossil fuels, according to a new report. In fact, they&apos;re quite a bad one. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Say Earliest Snakes Lived Alongside The Dinosaurs

Scientists Say Earliest Snakes Lived Alongside The Dinosaurs

Newsy (Jan. 28, 2015) Wrongly categorized as lizard fossils, snake fossils now show the reptile could have developed earlier than we thought — 70 million years earlier. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mobile Heat Tech the Google Maps of Energy Savings

Mobile Heat Tech the Google Maps of Energy Savings

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 28, 2015) A Boston company has come up with a new and efficient way for homeowners to save money on energy costs, a timely innovation given the impact of this week&apos;s snow storms in the northeast US. The company is using a newly developed technology that can map heat signatures for entire cities in matter of days, generating data that could potentially produce billions in energy savings. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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