Carrie Masiello is an assistant professor in the department of Earth Science at Rice. Leaves, parts of trees and plants, and other organic material end up in the river system and over time decompose and are released back into the atmosphere as CO2.
This information is important because it tells researchers how long the river is holding carbon before it becomes an element of the atmosphere. Masiello says the biosphere naturally handles a huge amount of carbon. It is the man made additional CO2 that is problematic.
Masiello says that the latest data from the 1990s indicates that this system is out of balance in man's favor. Data from the 80s showed the biosphere was handling it's 120 gigatons of carbon, but data from the 90s found it was also taking about a sixth of the carbon from man made sources.
She says we need to find out the process that is controlling this and how long it is going to last.
It has only been relatively recent that scientists even understood that rivers played this role in the carbon cycle. Masiello says this study is another part in the puzzle of how the biosphere works they way it does. She was part of team that included university of Washington researchers Emilio Mayorga and Anthony Aufdenkampe. More on this study can be found in the latest addition of the journal "Nature."