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Blog Reflection: Plumbing the Global Carbon Cycle

on January 30, 2013

This week’s article reflection is on “Plumbing the Global Carbon Cycle” by Cole et al. The main point of the article is to present a budget on the net impact inland waters have on the world’s carbon cycle. For years, carbon measurements were taken from the atmosphere, land and ocean. The only time inland waters were measured, it would be to track the amount of carbon flowing through a riverine pipe. Inland waters have been neglected until now. Inland waters have had double the amount of carbon that was found in ocean and land combined (Cole et al, 2007).

So what does an inland water if it is not the ocean? Well let’s re-cap. Inland waters include lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, wetlands and groundwater.  So why haven’t these waters been addressed? Well it has been difficult to measure carbon due to some river, streams and reservoirs are too small to measure, lack of materials and insufficient funding. Globally only carbon from large rivers, lakes reservoirs, etc., have been calculated.

I found it interesting that methane was included in this article. I did not realize that there are lakes and wetlands that emit methane. Methane has been a major cause of global warming. Cole et al suggest that methane be included in this article since there are low amounts of oxygen in aquatic ecosystems. My question was why include methane when this article should primarily focus on why inland waters should be accounted for in the global carbon cycle. Another question is have is how soon can we find out the major impacts inland ecosystem estimations could be made?

Now Figure 1a,b show how the global carbon cycle is viewed (Cole et al, 2007). 1a shows inland ecosystems as a connection between land and ocean with no major influence. 1b shows inland ecosystems as a functional component of the carbon cycle. Inland waters in this picture would store sediment flowing from the land and emit CO2 into the atmosphere. I liked the depiction of inland waters because when I started this class, this was exactly what my view was.

So why should you care? Well first let’s start with what the carbon cycle is. The carbon cycle involves two processes: photosynthesis and respiration. In photosynthesis, plants absorb CO2 into their cells, along with light and energy and break it down (oxidize) the molecules to make sugar, energy and oxygen. This oxygen is released into the atmosphere. We breathe O2 in and oxidize this along with sugar to make CO2 and water. This process is called cellular respiration. After we exhale CO2 then the carbon cycle begins again. Now when carbon levels are able to be measured properly from not only land, ocean and the atmosphere but inlands as well, then we would be able to find ways to better preserve them. Inland ecosystems are able to contribute a lot to the carbon cycle if we gave them a chance.

Some terms that I needed to look up were:
Riverine-adj- of or pertaining to a river; situated or dwelling beside a river (
Peatland-wetlands with a thick water-logged organic soil layer (peat) made up of dead and decaying plant material. Examples: moors, boogs or mires. (
Fluvial-produced by or found in a river (

I found an interesting article called “Review: From multi-scale conceptualization to a classification system” by Bertrand et al. This article was about the need for groundwater-dependant ecosystems. GDEs are important for species that need seasonal or continuous water flow for survival. This article could be linked to the Plumbing global carbon cycle article because there has been insufficient estimations of the amount of carbon there is in groundwater ecosystems.

Here is the link to the article From multi-scale conceptualization to a classification system

Carbon Cartoon

for inland groundwater-dependent ecosystems


5 responses to “Blog Reflection: Plumbing the Global Carbon Cycle

  1. entomily says:

    Including methane when your article is specific to in land water? THANK YOU for agreeing that Cole et. al. got a bit sidetracked there. Your comic strip is an excellent touch your digestible explanation of the carbon cycle! There’s a great wealth of information on amphibians dependence upon vernal pools for reproduction as part of their life history strategy; is that mentioned in the second article you found or would that have implemented too many variables for study? Great post!

  2. mariahdavis says:

    Very cute cartoon! Good point about the methane. I was expecting to read more about it too? Could have been an interesting aspect had the authors gone into more detail. I like your “why should you care” paragraph. Good job breaking down the carbon cycle.

  3. evancoelm1 says:

    As was mentioned in class, the differences between lotic and lentic water systems make inland waters quite unique, and different than oceans. I think everyone is writing and agreeing about the factors that come into play when trying to understand why inland waters are hard to define in relation to the carbon cycle as a whole. I also enjoyed the cartoon, definitely gets the basic points across.

  4. Great post! To answer your questions, I think they include methane in this article because methane is simply one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen. Hence it is a part of the carbon cycle! It was also probably included because, like you mentioned, it is a greenhouse gas.

    Also-I love your connections with the GDEs. While they were always on my radar, I’ve never really looked for research on them.

    I like the cartoon too…but I think it could lead to some misconceptions as the wording is a little confusing “later on the carbon atom will transfer itself into an animal organism by a process of respiration” Is this entire accurate?

  5. Agree with Rach, the cartoon is lacking an appropriately articulated step that would leave readers without the ability to correctly connect movement of a carbon atom through the C cycle. Also methane is particularly important in wetlands which can be massive “releasers” of it.

    Be careful with this sentence “Inland waters have had double the amount of carbon that was found in ocean and land combined” I am not sure quite what you are getting at here.


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