Surprise finding: Arctic rivers have a negative feedback response to warming

In two major arctic rivers, a changing climate and shifting human activities are having a surprising response. CREDIT
Norman Kuring, NASA

In warming Arctic, major rivers show surprising changes in carbon chemistry

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Over the past several decades, the Arctic has begun to show signs of significant ecological upheaval. The rate of warming in the Arctic is nearly twice the global average, and those changes are triggering a cascade of destabilizing environmental effects. Ice is melting, permafrost is thawing, and experts say fires in Arctic forests are as damaging as they’ve been in 10,000 years.

But new research suggests that the same factors driving the Arctic’s changing climate are fueling a geological response that could play a small part in counteracting those changes’ malign effects.

In a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from Florida State University report that, in two major Arctic rivers, 40 years of climate change seem to have fortified a natural process that consumes and stores atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The process of interest to researchers was the production of riverine alkalinity, or the ability of river water to resist changes that would make it more acidic. Alkalinity is produced when carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater weathers rock surfaces. As the rocks are weathered, the carbon atom contained in carbon dioxide is transformed from a gas in the atmosphere into a salt that can be geologically stored for millennia.

In general, the more alkalinity detected in a given waterway, the more carbon dioxide was withdrawn from the atmosphere.

“The production of alkalinity is a natural way that the Earth recycles atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said study lead author Travis Drake, a doctoral candidate in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science.

The production of alkalinity constitutes a carbon dioxide “sink,” a system that works in opposition to natural and anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission. The researchers set out to determine how changing human activity and the dramatic shifts in Arctic climate might be affecting alkalinity production in two of the region’s largest rivers, the Ob’ and the Yenisei.

There were straightforward ways of sampling alkalinity in the modern rivers, but for historical measurements, the team relied on reams of decades-old biomonitoring data.

“Since there are many changes underway in the Arctic as a result of climate change and other anthropogenic activity, we hypothesized that the production of alkalinity may have also changed over time,” Drake said. “Through collaboration with our Russian colleagues, we were able to recover a historic alkalinity dataset dating back to the Soviet era.”

After parsing the data and comparing historical alkalinity rates with contemporary measurements, the researchers’ suspicions were confirmed. Not only had alkalinity increased for both the Yenisei and Ob’ rivers, but the rates had skyrocketed a remarkable 185 and 134 percent respectively over the 40-year interval — two figures that dwarf the rates of increase in similarly large rivers like the Mississippi (59 percent over the past 47 years).

Possible causes for the considerable alkalinity increases are manifold. Thawing permafrost, increased water flows, exposure of unweathered mineral surfaces, changes in acid deposition from human industry and carbon dioxide fertilization of Arctic plant life are all potential pieces of this unexpected puzzle.

But the upshot is simple: In these rivers that carve thousands of miles through the harsh Arctic landscape, human activity seems to be triggering a pronounced reaction.

“If climate change is causing an increase in alkalinity production in the Arctic, it could be acting as slight negative feedback to warming, which is a good thing,” Drake said.

While escalating alkalinity won’t approach the magnitude of response required to counterbalance anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, researchers said these findings illustrate the dynamic way Earth systems react to extreme climate shifts.

“We still very much have to worry about the alarming rate at which CO2 is increasing in our atmosphere, but this highlights the complexity and somewhat homeostatic dynamics of the global carbon cycle,” Drake said.

###

From FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY

UPDATE: (this erroneously didn’t make it into the original post)

The study: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b01051

Increasing Alkalinity Export from Large Russian Arctic Rivers

Riverine carbonate alkalinity (HCO3 and CO32–) sourced from chemical weathering represents a significant sink for atmospheric CO2. Alkalinity flux from Arctic rivers is partly determined by precipitation, permafrost extent, groundwater flow paths, and surface vegetation, all of which are changing under a warming climate. Here we show that over the past three and half decades, the export of alkalinity from the Yenisei and Ob’ Rivers increased from 225 to 642 Geq yr–1 (+185%) and from 201 to 470 Geq yr–1 (+134%); an average rate of 11.90 and 7.28 Geq yr–1, respectively. These increases may have resulted from a suite of changes related to climate change and anthropogenic activity, including higher temperatures, increased precipitation, permafrost thaw, changes to hydrologic flow paths, shifts in vegetation, and decreased acid deposition. Regardless of the direct causes, these trends have broad implications for the rate of carbon sequestration on land and delivery of buffering capacity to freshwater ecosystems and the Arctic Ocean.

Advertisements

85 thoughts on “Surprise finding: Arctic rivers have a negative feedback response to warming

  1. Start with a false premise and reach any conclusion you want. We all know the Arctic is warming in the winter and is at the average or below in the summer.

    • Well in fact they rattle off a whole list of “…increasing…” stuff that I think lacks supporting documentation. And then repeat the error when they start to speculate about what might contribute to this sarc phenomenonal /sarc increase in alkalinity.

      Now actually parsing this data, that’s a worthwhile scientific endeavor, and just one of a whole pile of data people have been collecting over the years but have never actually looked at. Further, I can easily believe human activities have contributed to this rising alkalinity in some manner (land use changes spring to mind, which means the increase only indicates an increase in erosion; or fertilizer) but probably none of the methods the researchers discussed in their speculations.

      • “Ice is melting, permafrost is thawing, and experts say fires in Arctic forests are as damaging as they’ve been in 10,000 years.”

        …are all things the warmunists have “found” in their model outputs, but are not supported by evidence in the real world. And then again:

        “Thawing permafrost, increased water flows, exposure of unweathered mineral surfaces, changes in acid deposition from human industry…”

        …are also products of the warmunist’s phantasmagoric wet dreams, not supported by evidence in the real world. Do these researchers ever bother to research existing literature first before they begin their research? I will give them the “…exposure of unweathered mineral surfaces…” thing, that seems plausible, in fact that’s what I said in my comment earlier (increased erosion), but they have not bothered to point to any evidence that may support this.

        All they left out was

        “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

      • Red94ViperRT10

        “Well in fact they rattle off a whole list of “…increasing…” stuff that I think lacks supporting documentation. ”

        You think it lacks supporting documentation? Why? Just because you don’t know about it, you assume it doesn’t exist? What kind of sense does that make?

        The melting of permafrost is very well-established. So is the retreat of glaciers, which exposes unweathered mineral surfaces. Maybe before assuming that the researchers are making things up, you should educate yourself.

    • ”We all know the Arctic is warming in the winter and is at the average or below in the summer.”

      …might be another one of those things we all think we know that is not actually supported by credible data. How many temperature recording stations actually exist in the “Arctic”? Or whatever region this research staked out as their area of interest? For those rivers which ultimately empty into the Arctic Ocean, how far removed are the headwaters?

      • One of the rivers is the MacKenzie with thousands upon thousands of natural seeps that flow to the Arctic Ocean

      • However, the Yenisei runs through an area with a lot of oil and gas development. I wonder what all that pollution is doing.

        JF
        (I can do a list….)

  2. RE: “In these rivers that carve thousands of miles through the harsh Arctic landscape, human activity seems to be triggering a pronounced reaction.”

    ‘Seems to be’ assumption of cause and effect, without substantiation.

    • The Ob’s basin, with the smallest discharge out of three (Yenisey and Lena, the other two) has large number of settlements and industries, while human activity in the basins of the other two rivers is negligible in comparison see link .

  3. “The rate of warming in the Arctic is nearly twice the global average”

    Twice nothing is still nothing.

    • HotScot said, in the “why-i-dont-deny-confessions-of-a-climate-skeptic-part-1” discussion:

      “I don’t believe it’s anyone’s intention on this site to ‘deny’ climate change or warming. The question is, to what degree is warming happening and with what effect.”

      Hmmm.

      • Philip Schaeffer

        So zero is wrong?

        “Hmmm” Yep, I can smell you from here.

        It seems I have yet another stalker. Ewwwwwww……Creepy.

      • Phillip, are you stupid, or do are you paid to make yourself appear so?

        Look up the phrase and it’s cultural roots. You will find that in this instance “nothing” does not apply zero. It also is used for something that is close enough to zero that the difference doesn’t matter.

        • MarkW said:

          “Phillip, are you stupid, or do are you paid to make yourself appear so?

          Look up the phrase and it’s cultural roots. You will find that in this instance “nothing” does not apply zero. It also is used for something that is close enough to zero that the difference doesn’t matter.”

          😀

          The amount of warming and how much it matters are two different issues. You sprouted some rubbish, and now you want to argue that nothing doesn’t mean nothing.

  4. “the carbon atom contained in carbon dioxide is transformed from a gas in the atmosphere into a salt ”

    I’m not a geologist, chemist or “climate scientist”, but I’ve known about this for at least 30 years.

    • MarkW

      It’s to ‘subtly’ enlighten the climate faithful.

      The climate faithful are oblivious to it, but at least they tried.

    • And did you know that the carbonate ion makes the water slightly alkaline? In the ocean, carbonate maximizes at pH values greater than nine.

    • MarkW

      Not sure how ‘American’ football can be considered a game of the ‘foot’. As far as I can gather the foot is in contact with the ball half a dozen time in a match, if that. Nor can it be likened to Rugby as the ball is ‘thrown’ forward which is an offence in Rugby, on the other hand, kicking a Rugby ball forward is common and legal.

      Very confusing. Perhaps ‘chuck ball’ rather than football would be a more appropriate description?

      • Also, in American Football a ‘touchdown’ scores six points, but it’s in Rugby that the ball actually needs to touch the ground in the end zone to score a ‘try’.

        • Thomas Homer

          In Rugby the ball must be ‘grounded’ in the ‘in goal’ area by a player “pressing down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck.” (worldrugby.org). The ‘in goal’ area is between the try line and the dead ball area. https://laws.worldrugby.org/?law=1

          The ball can touch the in goal area in a number of ways including being kicked into it, and by a defending player tactically using what might appear to be an ‘own try’ (own goal) which it isn’t, to turn defence into attack.

          Bizarrely, for ‘American’ football fans, the touch line is when the ball is considered ‘off pitch’ and therefore dead, it’s the left and right boundaries of the pitch.

          A perceptibly simple and brutal game but Rugby and Cricket are the field sports equivalent of Grand Master Chess.

          But I would say that as a former Rugby player. 🙂

      • HS,

        The ball is kicked more than four times that often in American football.

        In an average NFL game, there are 10.5 kickoffs (off a tee), 10.3 punts (drop kicks) and 4.1 field goal attempts (off a held ball), for a total of 24.9 foot-ball contacts of all kinds.

        Games are often decided by kicking, rather than running or passing.

        • Sgt

          Forgive me, I’m not terribly familiar with American football. However, a ‘punt’ in Rugby is distinct from a ‘drop kick’ in that a punt is the ball falling from the hand directly to the foot.

          A drop kick requires the ball to touch the ground as it’s kicked, the process is simultaneous, if not, the ball is considered ‘knocked forward’ and therefore a ‘scrum’ awarded to the defending team. A scrum is distinct from a ‘scrimmage’ as I understand it, in that the ‘forwards’ (8 per team) are packed down and locked together before the ball is thrown between them and they must push to impose dominance and win the ball. Sounds simple, it isn’t.

          There are of course also ‘hacks’ (where the ball is randomly kicked forward from the ground), and ‘grubbers’ (where the ball is punted with a low trajectory usually for interception by an attacking player).

          I think a field goal in Rugby is called a Conversion. Following a try, the attacking team gain extra points by ‘converting ‘ the ball through the posts above the bar.

          In a game of Rugby there might be 40 or 50 kicks, punts, drop kicks, conversions, drop outs (drop kick from a defensive position) grubbers and hacks, often more. Any one of those kicks could, and often do, mean a 40 or 50 Metre gain to the attacking team in open play.

          The premiership championship is due to begin this Friday with Bristol via Bath, continuing over the weekend with three matches on Saturday and one on Sunday.

          If you like the idea of watching a game of Rugby I invite you to have a look at the championship site here https://www.premiershiprugby.com.

          The matches are largely televised through BT sport but you might be able to get them in the US as there is an enthusiastic following there. If not, the best Rugby Championship in the world, the 6 Nations (Scotland, England, Ireland, France, Wales and Italy) resumes again in February 2019.

          The game will utterly confuse you but the sheer spectacle is compelling.

          • “A drop kick requires the ball to touch the ground as it’s kicked,”

            I was a pretty good drop kicker in my youth, although I never played Rugby.

            I could drop kick a football completely over my two-story house from the back yard and it would land in the street in front of my house.

            The only problem though was they didn’t use drop kicking in American football, although I believe there were a few in the early days of football who drop kicked, so I never got to display my kicking talents on the football field. 🙂

          • “A drop kick requires the ball to touch the ground as it’s kicked,”

            I believe American Football rules still allow a drop-kick for Field-Goals and Extra-Points, although it is seldom done anymore as the current shape of the football makes the bounce rather unpredictable (earlier American footballs were more rounded).

          • RicDre

            It’s not easy to drop kick a ball over a house, between two uprights, with 15 opposition members bearing down on you at full tilt. 🙂

          • Yes, I believe you are correct that drop kicking is legal in American football, it’s just never done.

          • Soccer is a game where people run around and pretend they’re hurt.
            Rugby is a game where people run around and pretend they’re not hurt.

          • HS,

            I’m not a rugby expert, but I knew a few people who played and watched a few games (matches?). What I find most curious is Australian rules football (I think that’s what it’s called).

        • That’s all beside the point. The name far predates any rules requiring kicking. The most likely original use of the term was to distinguish between games played on horseback by aristocrats and commoner games played on foot. In other words, “football” was almost a derogatory, condescending term.

          The origins seem to be from Shrovetide games or other forms of Mob Football, and rules limiting the movement of the ball to only by kicking didn’t appear until the mid 1800s. In fact, Rugby Football was codified first, followed later by Cambridge rules and Sheffield rules with the later two evolving into Association Football (soccer).
          Australian and Canadian football both predate Association football, with American football forming only six years after Association football.

          And yes, Wikipedia is my source … sue me.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Shrovetide_Football

          • Kevin Hilde

            From your source:

            “An early reference to a ball game that was probably football comes from 1280 at Ulgham, Northumberland, England”

            “Although the accepted etymology of the word football, or “foot ball”, originated in reference to the action of a foot kicking a ball, this may be a false etymology. An alternative,explanation has it that the word originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot.” (My emphasis).

            It’s not conclusive the term distinguished aristocrats and peasants, at least from that source.

  5. They’re almost there……one or two more steps and they will figure out why there’s no such thing as run away global acidification

  6. “Fires are as damaging as they have been in the past 10,000 years” In other words, fires are being fires. Seriously. This sentence has no meaning whatsoever. What is it doing in a supposedly scientific report.

  7. But if the carbon sinks get all plugged up with man’s CO2, we’re doomed. Not even a kabillion tons of Drano can unclog that. /sarc

    • unbelievable….they find healthy green plants….algae…and even that’s a disaster

      One of these days they are going to figure out where the carbon….in carbonates/buffer/alkalinity….comes from…and why it increases as CO2 levels increase

      chemistry is easy….biochemistry is hard

    • Your link does not make much sense. NPR is known for that nowadays. Geologists usually not so much. “”You can feel that?” he asks. “All that scum, all that slime is algae and bacteria.” Alkaline slime, thought worse if it was acid? “Some of the growing alkalinity of the Mississippi and its tributaries comes from farmers putting lime on fields to counteract the acidity produced by fertilizers, Raymond says. Acid rain likely contributes, too.” I thought I learned in Agronomy that many soils were naturally acid. Good for azaleas.

      I guess they know about this. Raymond, P. A. and J. J. Cole. 2003. Increase in the export of alkalinity from North America’s largest river. Science. 301:88-90. Acid ocean here we come?

      Do they know about this? Clarke, F. W. 1924. The composition of the river and lake waters of the United States. U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 135. 199pp. From back in the day when data was the goal, conclusions can wait. Is there a new version? Or does it matter?

      I recall driving across a fair amount of the northeastern US during the acid rain scare. Only saw one small forest that looked dead, whatever the cause. And finally “The impacts are large,” he says, “larger than we ever thought 50 years ago they might be.” Don’t think so, this started back then when there was actually more scum!

  8. “human activity seems to be triggering a pronounced reaction”

    This is now ubiquitous in academic press releases and in the media, the insinuation that any change in the last several decades is an ongoing change, when it fact it ain’t, it was a sudden step change 20 to 30 years ago.

  9. “The production of alkalinity is a natural way that the Earth recycles atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said study lead author Travis Drake, a doctoral candidate in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science.

    As if sequestering carbon so that it leaves the carbon cycle for a few million years is the definition of “recycling”.

    In reality, burning coal, oil, and natural gas is the way humans are recycling carbon back into the atmosphere and forestalling the day when almost all life as we know it ends on earth due to CO2 starvation.

    • Rich Davis

      Strange than man pitched up around the time CO2 was dangerously low, discovered how to make fire, then discovered that coal and oil burn (I mean, who would think to light a rock and a liquid). Two commodities that were accidentally but naturally sequestered.

      I wonder if an all seeing being thought “Oh shit, I fucked up, I know, I’ll invent man, that’ll do the trick”.

      He forgot to exclude greens from the equation though.

      Ah well, back to the drawing board, even unseen beings live and learn I guess.

    • You’re right, the University of Miami hasn’t been living up to expectations in recent years either.

  10. They’re being rather coy here….
    Numbers please, what the starting point for this ‘alkalinity’? Are we talking pH 1 or pH 13?
    (Sounds of ocean acidification, esp with those impressive %% numbers)

    Are they intimating the hardness or softness of the water (UK terminology) – i.e. the amount, per unit volume, of dissolved calcium and magnesium?
    Maybe.

    Do beware ‘soft water’ as UK folks, me included before my house-move, think soft water is great. It doesn’t fur up your kettle, washing machine, pipeworks, soap powder works better etc etc BUT, it is acidic.
    The usually assumed lifespan for a copper water cylinder in Cumbria is taken to be about 35 years before it becomes paper thin and bursts.
    Girls love it coz it makes their hair shinier than might otherwise be. (No white insoluble ‘scum’ left behind = calcium or magnesium stearate)
    Sources of soft (acidic) water are obviously that it is natural rain, or has passed through soil that does not contain any large proportion of limestone or has passed through soil with a large amount of organic material and bacteria within that soil are active (above 5 deg centigrade)

    Hard water is from where the (river) water has come from a limestone landscape. Weathering, which they mention, puts a lot of calcium & magnesium into the water. The weathering is caused by acidic rainwater – all rain falling thorough ANY amount of CO2 will hit the ground at about pH 5.5

    Questions arising:
    Are their rivers coming from limestone landscapes. A simple reduction or slowing of flow rate will allow more time for Ca & Mg to get into solution.
    I just don’t think that that is the reason, limestone landscapes are fairly rare but large parts of England being that exception.
    Otherwise, is there less rain falling (more snow) delivering less ‘weathering agent’ (oxides of carbon, nitrogen & sulphur)
    Doesn’t more snow mean an actual cooling up there?

    Also, maybe the water contains proportionally more Ca & Mg because the soil bacteria within the rivers’ catchments are less active than previously – hence producing less Humic Acid and effecting a rise in the recorded pH?

    They really do need to clarify things here because, hopefully you caught my drift about more snow and less-active bacteria, they are saying that things are cooling……

    Their only saviour would be that all their river catchments have limestone bedrock.
    Is that the case – where’s our roving reporter these days? Have we a man on the ground?
    haha
    *Please* don’t say he’s trapped in some ice
    😀

    • Peta of Newark

      Love it. A science lesson for me right there.

      Scotland’s luxuriant soft water was at one time blamed for the stupidly high incidence of heart disease in Glasgow. It wasn’t smoking, alcohol, drug abuse and deep fried Mars Bars, it was soft water.

      Every day’s a school day at WUWT. 🙂

    • The warming of the Arctic seems to be having very little effect on the snow cover extent across the NH during the winter months. Also here in England its having very little effect on the timing of the first snowfall of the season.

  11. > Not only had alkalinity increased for both the Yenisei and Ob’ rivers, but the rates had skyrocketed a remarkable 185 and 134 percent respectively over the 40-year interval.

    185% & 134% of what from what baseline? Without knowing initial conditions or if those even were initial conditions not aberrations themselves this is a meaningless claim.

    And never forget, “permafrost” cannot be freed up from the ice unless it was once biologically viable in the far past and thus we are only partially returning closer to previous climate conditions.

  12. I live about 20 miles west of a continental divide, next to a stream in west central Colorado. The continental divide being the farthest starting point of the water in my stream, which is also fed by many springs. The base rock here is sandstone, shale and limestone, being an elevated sea bed, with basalt intrusions, and ash/clay overlays. That said, the PH of the water in the stream is 9.5, a long way from ever becoming acidic.

  13. So forest fires were as bad or worse 10,000 years ago? So, it’s natural then? We probably shouldn’t go crazy trying to defeat natural processes we clearly don’t understand.

  14. From the abstract:

    Here we show that over the past three and half decades, the export of alkalinity from the Yenisei and Ob’ Rivers increased from 225 to 642 Geq yr⁻¹ (+185%) and from 201 to 470 Geq yr⁻¹ (+134%); an average rate of 11.90 and 7.28 Geq yr⁻¹, respectively.

    What does “Geq” mean?

    • Well, if nobody else knows, either, then I don’t feel quite so dumb. 😏

      Anyhow, regardless of what “Geq” means, it appears that they misstated the units in the final set of numbers. “11.90” and “7.28” are average annual changes in rate; i.e., acceleration. So the “-1” exponent should be “-2”. I.e.,

      an average rate of 11.90 and 7.28 Geq yr⁻¹

      should be

      an average rate increase of 11.90 and 7.28 Geq yr⁻²

      It’s just a typo, I guess, but it seems surprising that they have a typo like that in the third sentence of the abstract!

  15. As a holder of a BS in Geology, I’m familiar with the concept of buffered streams. However, this statement in the article: “As the rocks are weathered, the carbon atom contained in carbon dioxide is transformed from a gas in the atmosphere into a salt that can be geologically stored for millennia” gave me pause for thought. The result of H2CO3 + CaCO3 doesn’t seem one that would produce a salt, so I refreshed my chemical equation balancing skills and got H2CO3 + CaCO3 = Ca(HCO3)2, AKA calcium hydrogen bicarbonate. Not a salt as far as I can tell.

    [Would “solid” be better? Or at least adequate? .mod]

  16. But surely this just means that The Russians are sowing discord in the West by presenting their ‘data’ that encourages dissidents’ thinking? SO we can ignore it or use it as proof that the skeptics are really Russian Trolls?

Comments are closed.