Groundwater is a hidden source of greenhouse gases (report) - Energy

Read in this article

  • Groundwater was beneficial to the planet due to its use in agriculture or as drinking water.
  • Underground water extraction, which has a hidden problem, will increase.
  • Groundwater brings with it dissolved organic matter that has been preserved for a long time.
  • Groundwater has the potential to be a source of greenhouse gases on the planet.
  • Molecules containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen make up the dissolved organic matter in groundwater.

Groundwater was, and still is, extremely beneficial to the planet because it is used for agriculture or for drinking.

It is estimated that there are nearly two trillion Olympic swimming pools of water stored in the top 10 km of continental crust, and dry land is not completely dry; Because it is saturated with huge amounts of groundwater, hidden in the expanses of land we walk on.

As the Earth is warming and the waterways are drying up; Underground water extraction, which has a hidden problem, will increase; According to the Australian media network, The Conversation.

It was believed by experts that the organic matter in groundwater does not react when it is thrown out, but the opposite is true.

Organic matter in ground water

New research published by the British journal Nature Communications finds that when groundwater, especially from the depths, is pumped to the surface, it can be used to treat turbidity. It brings with it dissolved organic matter that has been preserved for a long time.

When exposed to sunlight and oxygen, this organic matter can easily turn into carbon dioxide.

underground water
Groundwater (Photo: Reuters)

This means that groundwater is likely to be another source of greenhouse gases on the planet, one that is not included in the current carbon calculations.

Analysts estimate that the volume of this organic matter amounts to the same amount of dissolved organic carbon that the Congo River releases annually, the second largest in the world by volume.

This problem is expected to worsen. Because the overextraction of accessible groundwater stimulates the search for deeper waters, which contain a lot of these greenhouse gas-producing organic matter.

Therefore, this unexpected source of greenhouse gases must be included in the carbon calculations.

It should be noted that agriculture in Australia is highly dependent on pumped groundwater in some areas.

How can groundwater be a source of greenhouse gases?

Groundwater can remain underground for millions of years; Its chemical composition depends on the rock or land that surrounds it.

During this time, dissolved organic matter decomposes very slowly due to darkness, and there is no way to replenish the oxygen that would normally dissolve in water from the atmosphere, and wells and pumps are one way groundwater reaches daylight and air.

Moreover, groundwater leaks daily from the world’s coasts at a rate of 13 times the water in Sydney Harbour, by contrast, all wells in the world pump about 5 Sydney ports daily.

To find out what happens when this ancient water appears; A team of researchers at Nature Communications has collected some of the oldest dissolved organic matter in deep groundwater analyzed so far. This organic matter has been dissolved in groundwater for more than 25,000 years.

underground water
Groundwater (Photo: Reuters)

The researchers found that long-term exposure to deep, dark, oxygen-depleted aquifers meant that molecules were preserved that would normally be degraded by sunlight or greenhouse gas-producing microbes when exposed to oxygen.

On the other hand, molecules containing carbon, oxygen and hydrogen form the dissolved organic matter in groundwater.

Microorganisms can break down some of these molecules, and sunlight converts the remaining molecules into new molecules or carbon dioxide.

Based on global estimates of dissolved matter in groundwater, the researchers estimate the amount of organic matter brought to the surface by wells or flowing into the sea, at approximately 12.8 million tons per year.

Dealing with climate change

Since groundwater is the source of carbon, it should be taken into account in the way that climate change is being addressed.

In order to accurately predict future climate change scenarios and the speed required for remediation, knowledge of all sources and pathways of carbon removal to and from the atmosphere is essential.

underground water
Groundwater in Australia (Image via ABC website)

Given that the population of Australia is expected to reach nearly 40 million within the next 40 years; The continuation of the lifestyle of this growing population means more groundwater for agriculture, industry and domestic use.

Despite the huge amounts of groundwater in the earth’s crust; Most of them are very difficult to extract, according to the Australian media network The Conversion.

Many near-surface artesian basins are currently exploited, and in many places, over-extraction of groundwater is a real problem, due to drying up of wells in some agricultural areas.

As the waters near the Earth’s surface are running out, people are forced to keep extracting deeper, older waters that contain more organic molecules that can turn into carbon dioxide once they’ve been extracted.

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