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Freshwater Ecosystems Filter Pollutants Before they Reach Oceans

May 01, 2018 |

This article was originally published on 

“Whether through carbon dioxide emissions or nutrient pollution from fertilizers used in agriculture, human activities have a profound impact on ecosystems—often throwing them out of balance. By adding excess nutrients to crops, some are very likely to end up in rivers, lakes and streams. But not all of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus that enter waterways end up downstream. Freshwater ecosystems filter some of the excess pollutants out of the water before it reaches the ocean, according to a new study.

“This is the first study to examine what happens in the ‘freshwater pipe’ from the land to the oceans with respect to  and ,” said Jim Cotner, professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.

Published in Limnology and Oceanography Letters, researchers discovered that:

  • plants and algae process much of the carbon that enters freshwater ecosystems from land using photosynthesis;
  • if there is too much carbon and nitrogen for plants and algae to use, freshwater systems are more likely to remove it by releasing it into the atmosphere;
  • if phosphorus is in excess, freshwater ecosystems can remove it by burying it into the bottom of lakes and reservoirs…”

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