Rivers are often overlooked about the role these bodies of water play in Earth's environment, but new research shows that humans might want to pay more attention to them.
What Was Discovered About Rivers On Earth?
A new study discovered that all of the rivers and streams in the world cover 44 percent more ground than what was previously estimated by scientists. A combination of all of the world's streams and rivers would surpass the size of Texas.
The study was published in the journal Science on June 28.
The rivers and streams add up to around 300,000 square miles. This is about half a percent of all of the non-glaciated land surface on Earth.
Rivers in areas with a lot of people tended to be narrower and more sparse. Scientists believe that people have been using the water in those nearby rivers for food and other purposes.
How Did Scientists Discover This Detail About Rivers?
The effort behind this study comprised of two parts. First, researchers examined thousands of images captured by NASA satellites. From there, the software calculated the total number of rivers and streams on Earth then added the sizes up. In the second part, a team of students checked to see if the software was accurately finding rivers instead of just roads.
Future Implications From This Study About Rivers
This study could prove to be an important catalyst for climate change. Rivers typically exchange greenhouses gases with the atmosphere. More rivers on Earth would result in more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, especially if humans are polluting the rivers. Substances such as fertilizers end up in the rivers and can cause numerous environmental challenges. This study serves as a reminder that when humans pollute rivers, it could hurt the atmosphere.
"It was assumed until about 2006 that rivers and lakes were just a pipe transporting carbon to the ocean," limnologist and biogeochemist John Downing, told Gizmodo. "But the rivers are leaking gases into the atmosphere."
The map produced by the researchers in the study could be very useful in the future. It can be used to predict river flow rates when the seasons change. Throughout the year, the map could help provide insight about flooding, which could be useful for people who live near water. The map could also be an important piece in the puzzle of scientists trying to determine the impact of climate change on Earth.