Carbon researcher studies water cycle

While many scientists and policymakers are concerned with global warming and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, Peter Raymond, a professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, researches a different, wetter aspect of the carbon cycle.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, one of the principle causes of global warming, is only one stage of the larger carbon cycle. For his development of innovative methods and his findings regarding the aquatic aspect of the cycle, Raymond was recently awarded the 2005 Cronin Award for Early Achievement at the biennial conference of the Estuarine Research Federation. Raymond’s research focuses on how carbon substances are transferred from land into bodies of water and how these compounds are processed in rivers and estuaries.

“Rivers are important in studying the global carbon budget because they are the major link between terrestrial reservoirs of carbon and oceanic reservoirs of carbon,” he said.

ERF President Linda Schaffner said his focus on the links between land and water was one reason he was chosen for the Cronin Award. Raymond also stood out for his ability to work across disciplines, she said.

“Peter has had an extraordinary start to his career,” Schaffner said.

Instead of just measuring levels of dissolved organic carbon in water, Raymond determines the age of the organic carbon, allowing him to investigate how long the carbon compounds remained on land before being transferred into a river or estuary.

Determining the age of the carbon material can provide insights into whether carbon found in waterways has recently been an active part of the carbon cycle or whether humans are exacerbating climate change by releasing carbon that has been stored, Environment School Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Oswald Schmitz said.

Schmitz studies the link between biodiversity and ecosystem function and the impacts of climate change on this association.

“I think what Peter is showing is that there is a lot of carbon locked up in the soil of the earth and in the bottom of water bodies,” Schmitz said. “The way we are changing land-use patterns and water use is causing this old carbon to be burped up and released into the atmosphere.”

Through his research, Raymond has developed part of the dating techniques since new methodology is required to perform these types of studies, Schmitz said.

“That puts [Raymond] at the forefront of his field,” he said.

In addition to striving to provide information about the aquatic aspect of the carbon cycle, his research also makes it possible to study changes in terrestrial carbon through the sampling of rivers and estuaries.

“One can sample streams and rivers as a diagnostic tool for terrestrial carbon,” Raymond said.

While it is difficult to sample all components of a heterogeneous terrestrial area, it is easier to take one sample in a river, Raymond said. By this method, he said he can more easily investigate how terrestrial systems respond to climate change.

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