View of a dry reservoir seen from the Ibohamane dam, Niger.
Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

08.02.2019

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Lakes should not be considered just as carbon sinks because also they emit gaseous carbon when they fall dry. A recently published study reveals that the importance of this phenomenon has so far been underestimated.

Dry inland waters are underrated players in climate change, an international research team warned in January 2019. Around 90 000 square kilometres of water surface have already vanished in the last 30 years. This trend is not only a threat to drinking water reserves and major ecosystems – dried freshwaters also play an important role in the global carbon cycle, and may be responsible for the release of CO2 and other climate-relevant gases.

According to the researchers, rivers, lakes, ponds and streams that fall partially or completely dry, or that have falling water levels, may play a significant role in global CO2 emissions. When permanently dry lake sediments and seasonally dry surfaces of all different freshwaters are considered, estimates for CO2 fluxes from continental inland waters to the atmosphere must be increased by about 10 per cent. As such, freshwaters play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than previously assumed.

Freshwaters play an important role in the global carbon cycle

Freshwaters, and lakes in particular, primarily act as carbon sinks – long-term carbon accumulation occurs in their sediments.

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