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Earth Covered by More Waterways Than Thought, Satellite Shows

Earth Covered by More Waterways Than Thought, Satellite Shows

Tundra, rivers and lakes of the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, on June 30, 2007. (Okyela/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Friday, 29 June 2018 12:33 PM

Earth is covered by more waterways than originally thought – 44 percent more – new satellite images show, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

The new estimate is based on global satellite images that researchers say show that rivers and streams covered 298,456.96 square miles of Earth, according to the website Science News. The state of Texas covers 268,597 square miles.

Science News said the statistics are important because more river surface area means more contact between water and air, suggesting that rivers are probably exchanging more carbon dioxide with the atmosphere than currently assumed.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina and Texas A&M University used satellite images, on-the-ground measurements and a statistical model to determine how much of the Earth is covered by rivers and streams.

"As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it's really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle," Tamlin Pavelsky, senior author and associate professor of global hydrology at UNC said in a statement.

"Our new calculation helps scientists better assess how much carbon dioxide is moving from rivers and streams into the atmosphere each year," Pavelsky added.

In the new study, instead of basing the coverage on theoretical extrapolations of small amounts of actual data, researchers were able to directly measure both the smallest streams and world's largest rivers through on-the-ground measurements and satellite images, the University of North Carolina statement said.

They then used a statistical model to estimate river and stream coverage across the globe, which allowed them to build the Global River Widths from Landsat database containing nearly 60 million measurements of river width worldwide, the statement continued.

George Allen, an assistant professor of geography at Texas A&M, said, on the other hand, that they found that surface area of rivers and streams in many developed parts of the world was less than expected.

"We think that there is less river water in these areas because humans are modifying the river system," Allen said in a statement from Texas A&M. "Water withdrawal and leveeing might be causing rivers to be narrower and more scarce than they would be otherwise."

The statement said that NASA plans to use the data from this research to identify river segments during its NASA Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite mission, which will launch in 2021.

"We found that rivers and streams likely play a greater role in controlling land-atmosphere fluxes than currently represented in global carbon budgets," the researchers said in the abstract of their study published in Science Magazine.

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New satellite images suggest that Earth is covered by about 44 percent more waterways that previously thought, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
earth, waterways, satellite, images
Friday, 29 June 2018 12:33 PM
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