Earth has more rivers than previously thought, study reports

Rivers and streams may have a large impact on climate change.
By Joseph Scalise | Nov 13, 2018
Rivers and streams cover 44 percent more ground than previously believed, according to new researchpublished in the journal Science.

While rivers are well-studied, they are often overlooked when it comes to estimating how much they influence the world's ecosystems. The new study shows how important they are by giving a new estimate on the amount of real estate they take up.

In the research, scientists from Texas A&M University found that streams and rivers take up roughly 300,000 square miles of Earth's surface, or roughly half of all non-glaciated land masses.

Rivers in populated areas tend to be narrow and sparse, which is likely due to people using the water for food and other purposes, while they are more open in more isolated areas.

The team gathered their data by examining thousands of images taken by NASA satellites and then using them to calculate the total number of rivers and streams. From there, they checked to see if the software was accurate.

This research is important because it could help researchers get a better idea of climate change. That is because rivers typically exchange greenhouses with the atmosphere. If there are more rivers it could mean that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well.

"It was assumed until about 2006 that rivers and lakes were just a pipe transporting carbon to the ocean," said John Downing, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the study, according toTech Times. "But the rivers are leaking gases into the atmosphere."

The study shows that if humans pollute rivers it could further harm the atmosphere. In addition, the research could help scientists predict river flow rates when the seasons change, flooding information, and how climate change may affect the Earth.

"If you look around the world, rivers look different from place to place," lead author George Allen, a researcher at Texas A&M University, told Gizmodo. "They might be braided, or sinuous, or meandering. And for the most part, current technology doesn't take into consideration the actual morphology of rivers. This data set is the first of its kind to do this at a global scale on high resolution."


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