April 24, 2024

Scientific Exploration of Unexpected Carbon Emissions

Sediment from the Mackenzie River in Canada

Sediment from Canada’s Mackenzie River flows into the Beaufort Sea in milky swirls in this 2017 satellite image. Scientists are studying how river discharge drives carbon dioxide emissions in this part of the Arctic Ocean. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen using USGS Landsat data

Runoff from one of the largest rivers in North America is causing intense carbon dioxide emissions in the Arctic Ocean.

When it comes to influencing climate change, the world’s smallest ocean punches above its weight. The Arctic’s cold waters are estimated to absorb up to 180 million metric tons of carbon per year – more than three times what New York City emits annually – making it one of Earth’s critical carbon sinks. But recent findings show that thawing permafrost and carbon-rich runoff from Canada’s Mackenzie River cause part of the Arctic Ocean to release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it absorbs.

The influence of the Mackenzie River on carbon emissions

The study, published earlier this year in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, explores how scientists are using cutting-edge computer modeling to study rivers like the Mackenzie, which flows into a region of the Arctic Ocean called the Beaufort Sea. Like many parts of the Arctic, the Mackenzie River and its delta have faced significantly warmer temperatures in recent years in all seasons, leading to more melting and thawing of waterways and landscapes.

In this swampy corner of Canada’s Northwest Territories, the continent’s second-longest river system ends a thousand-mile journey that begins near Alberta. Along the way, the river acts as a conveyor belt for mineral nutrients as well as organic and inorganic matter. This material drains into the Beaufort Sea as a soup of dissolved carbon and sediment. Some carbon is eventually released or released into the atmosphere by natural processes.

Mackenzie River NASA Earth Satellite

Like a carbon conveyor belt, the Mackenzie River, seen here in 2007 by NASA’s Terra satellite, drains an area of ​​nearly 1.8 million square kilometers on its journey north to the Arctic Ocean. Some of the carbon comes from thawing permafrost and peat bogs. Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and US/Japan ASTER science team

Scientists have considered the southeastern Beaufort Sea to be a weak to moderate CO2 sink, meaning it absorbs more greenhouse gases than it releases. However, there has been great uncertainty due to lack of data from the remote region.

Advanced modeling techniques and discoveries

To fill this gap, the study team adapted a global ocean biogeochemical model called ECCO-Darwin, which was developed in

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