riparian rap

Earth’s surface has more rivers than thought

By Erin Cotter, Research Assistant and Prototyper at LRRD

Using satellite images, ground measurements, and a statistical model, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas A&M University have recently found the surface area of streams and rivers across the globe is 45 percent greater than previously estimated.  Their study was driven by the need to better understand the effect of greenhouse gases emitted from rivers and streams.  Hydrologist Tamlin Pavelsky of UNC-Chapel Hill says, “As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle.”

Not only do these findings show us that more carbon emissions are coming from rivers and streams than we thought, but it also shows that more surface area of land is directly affected by stream and river erosion.   This increases the need for better understanding of fluvial geomorphology and the relationships that society and human infrastructure have with river systems.  Our Emriver models are a great hands-on tool for youth and adults alike to understand how rivers erode and change, and how small man-made changes have a lasting impact both upstream and downstream.  As climate change escalates and hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and droughts affect rivers and streams, it is key that we continue to study and encourage greater knowledge and better care of the world we share. 

photo credit: UNC-Chapel Hill.The line plot at right shows river coverage as a percentage of land area by latitude.