Friday, February 4, 2022

Human Impact On Earth's Sediment Cycle

One common type of argument I hear from anthropogenic climate change deniers is that human activity is too insignificant to affect the balance of global natural processes. On one debate a participant claimed that one large volcanic eruption emits more carbon dioxide than that by human activity. The actual amounts contradict this claim. Volcanism on earth emits about 0.13 -0.44 billion tons of CO2 per year. Human activity on the other hand emits about 35-40 billion tons of CO2 per year.

Jaia Syvitski and colleagues have produced a similar eye opening review of the human impact on earth's sediment cycle. The production, mobilization , transport, and deposition of sediment is based on a balance between tectonic processes, climate, erosion, and human activities. Our impact on sediment movement and its sequestration has now become so large that it dwarfs natural processes. 

The paper is open access for a limited time. Earth's sediment cycle during the Anthropocene

It is dense reading, full of numbers on sediment loads and fluxes.

"Human activities have increased fluvial sediment delivery by 215% while simultaneously decreasing the amount of fluvial sediment that reaches the ocean by 49%, and societal consumption of sediment over the same period has increased by more than 2,500%".

or: The Indus River once transported about 270 million tons of sediment to its delta. It presently deposits only about 13 million tons per year. So much of Indus water is siphoned off by canals, that it  often turns dry before reaching the sea.  

 and one more: "Large dams have trapped about 3,200 Gt of sediment since 1950 (ref.123), approximately 74% of which would likely have reached the coastal ocean". (Gt =billion tons)

There are many such stories from around the globe about the staggering amounts of sediment extracted and redirected for human use. Next time, don't shrug off the news you read about unregulated sand mining from our rivers. It is causing serious damage to riverine and coastal ecosystems.

The review ends with a proposal to set up a ‘Earth Sediment Cycle Grand Challenge’, a collaborative effort to better understand the changes to the sediment cycle. Such an initiative we surely need to address the many ongoing and future threats to our rivers and deltas.

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