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Images: River Quest

Scientist Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) takes water samples from British Columbia's Fraser River to analyze as part of the Global Rivers Observatory Project. The international  project, co-led by WHOI and the Woods Hole Research Center, is studying the chemistry of Earth's major rivers during the coming decades of climate change. (Photo courtesy of Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHRC Earth systems scientist Max Holmes and colleagues traveled in a narrow "pirogue" canoe on the nearly pristine Congo River to analyze the water's chemical makeup, as part of the Global Rivers Observatory project. "The chemical composition of the water can tell us something about the health of the river and it's tributaries," he said. Holmes first studied Arctic rivers, then teamed with Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink to expand the work and include large rivers all across the planet. (Photo by Chris Linder, Chris Linder Photography)

The Global Rivers Observatory project studies river basins from the tropics to the Arctic. Each river has different characteristics, and each river faces different challenges from changing climate and human activities.F or instance, Arctic watersheds will experience thawing permafrost, and the Amazon basin is seeing deforestation. The project's current study areas are in orange and future areas in gray.

(Map by Amy Caracappa-Qubek, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

To reach some of a river's tributaries, researchers need to get to remote areas, sometimes in difficult or dangerous conditions. (Photo by Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

By day, scientists, their colleagues, and students sample water from both raging flows and tiny backwaters. (Photo by Britta Voss, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

By night, in their hotel, MIT-WHOI Joint Program graduate students Britta Voss (top) and Katherine Kirsch use a makeshift system (including a bicycle pump) to filter the river samples and separate out particles suspended in the water. (Photo by Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Solid particles collecton a filter, like coffee grounds from making coffee, and the filtered water contains dissolved chemicals. (Photo by Chris Linder, Chris Linder Photography)

The particle and water samples are sent to collaborating labs that carry out chemical analysis for numerous elements and compounds. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

River water samples are archived by freezing, so that more analyses can be done in the future, some by technologies not yet invented. Different amounts of dissolved substances impart different colors to these samples. (Photo by Chris Linder, Chris Linder Photography)

Providing training, time, and supplies is an important part of the Global Rivers Observatory Project. Research partners around the world collaborate with Holmes and Peucker-Ehrenbrink to study rivers in their own geographic areas.

(Photo by Chris Linder, Chris Linder Photography)

Another important aspect of the project is to reach out to excite people about their local watersheds and involve them as "citizen scientists." In one Arctic village, students created artwork depicting their lives along the Lena River in Siberia, now being affected by climate change. The art was a traveling exhibit  in the U. S. and Russia.

(Art courtesy of Max Holmes, Woods Hole Research Center. Watercolor by Senya Koyakin, Zhigansk, Siberia, Russia.)