WELLINGTON, May 22 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand University of Canterbury (UC) scientists are part of a global research collaboration into the environmental impacts of dry riverbeds, with their findings published on Nature Geoscience on Tuesday.
New Zealand researchers, Professor of Freshwater Ecology Angus McIntosh and Catherine Febria of the School of Biological Sciences, UC College of Science, have been part of a global team evaluating what happens to plant litter that falls into in river beds when they are dry.
"People might feel that a pile of plant litter accumulating in a dry river bed couldn't possibly contribute to global climate warming, but the surprising reality is it very likely is," McIntosh said in a statement.
When the water returns, the accumulated leaf litter decomposes very rapidly in association with intense biological activity. This activity releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Because the contributions of these drying rivers have not been included in global carbon accounting previously, this could be very significant, McIntosh said.
"This is especially important because, surprisingly, intermittent streams and drying rivers are thought to include more than 60 percent of the river length world-wide," he noted, adding, "We've discovered a surprising and really important impact that river drying likely has on global carbon cycling.
"We should all care about this because carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the driver of global climate warming," he added.
This is the first piece of research published from this collaborative study involving 94 international partners from various countries studying the dry beds of 212 rivers from around the world, including Canterbury, according to the statement.