Carbon Cycle


Chasing Ocean ‘Snowflakes’

Chasing Ocean ‘Snowflakes’

Scientists envision putting a flotilla of devices in the ocean to act as “eyes” that can track the “marine snow” that drifts down into the ocean.

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Carbon Cycle

Carbon is the building block of life on Earth and has a powerful impact on the planet’s climate.

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Marshes, Mosquitoes, and Sea Level Rise

Marshes, Mosquitoes, and Sea Level Rise

In the 1930s, the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project dug approximately 1,500 miles of ditches across marshes on the Cape to drain their water and reduce the number of ponds where mosquitoes can breed. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biogeochemist Amanda Spivak is studying how this and other management decisions have changed the ability of coastal marshes to store carbon and protect against sea level rise.

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Mission to the Ocean Twilight Zone

Mission to the Ocean Twilight Zone

The twilight zone is a part of the ocean 660 to 3,300 feet below the surface, where little sunlight can reach. It is deep and dark and cold, and the pressures there are enormous. Despite these challenging conditions, the twilight zone teems with life that helps support the ocean’s food web and is intertwined with Earth’s climate. Some countries are gearing up to exploit twilight zone fisheries, with unknown impacts for marine ecosystems and global climate. Scientists and engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are poised to explore and investigate this hidden frontier.

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A Mighty Mysterious Molecule

A Mighty Mysterious Molecule

What gives sea air its distinctive scent? A chemical compound called dimethylsulfide. In a new study, WHOI scientists show that the compound may also be used by marine microbes to communicate with one another.

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Specks in the Spectrometer

Specks in the Spectrometer

Mass spectrometer facilities can be a rite of passage for scientists—as well as for the samples analyzed inside the mass specs.

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Earth’s Riverine Bloodstream

Earth's Riverine Bloodstream

Like blood in our arteries in our body, water in rivers carry chemical signals that can tell us a lot about how the entire Earth system operates.

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Tracking a Trail of Carbon

Tracking a Trail of Carbon

Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains of South America is an extraordinary place to explore ancient human civilization, Earth’s climate history, and the flow of carbon through our planet.

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River Buries Permafrost Carbon at Sea

As temperatures rise, some of the carbon dioxide stored in Arctic permafrost meets an unexpected fate—burial at sea. As many as 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year are swept along by a single river system into Arctic Ocean sediment, according to a new study led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) researchers and published today in Nature. This process locks away the greenhouse gas and helps stabilize the earth’s CO2 levels over time, and it may help scientists better predict how natural carbon cycles will interplay with the surge of CO2 emissions due to human activities.

“The erosion of permafrost carbon is very significant,” says WHOI Associate Scientist Valier Galy, a co-author of the study. “Over thousands of years, this process is sequestering CO2 away from the atmosphere in a way that amounts to fairly large carbon stocks. If we can understand how this process works, we can predict how it will respond as the climate changes.”

Permafrost—the permanently frozen ground found in the Arctic and Antarctic and in some alpine regions—is known to hold billions of tons of organic material, including vast stores of CO2. Amid concerns about rising Arctic temperatures and their impact on permafrost, many researchers have directed their efforts to studying the permafrost carbon cycle—the processes through which the carbon circulates between the atmosphere, the soil and surface (the biosphere), and the sea. Yet how this cycle works and how it responds to the warming, changing climate remains poorly understood.

Galy and his colleagues from Durham University, the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, the NERC Radiocarbon Facility, Stockholm University, and the Universite Paris-Sud set out to characterize the carbon cycle in one particular piece of the Arctic landscape—northern Canada’s Mackenzie River, the largest river flowing into the Arctic Ocean from North America and that ocean’s greatest source of sediment. The researchers hypothesized that the Mackenzie’s muddy water might erode thawing permafrost along its path and wash that biosphere-derived material and the CO2 within it into the ocean, preventing the release of that CO2 into the atmosphere.

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