River water chemistry is largely determined by processes occurring in the river’s watershed. Changes on land can therefore also cause changes in river chemistry. Much as human health can be evaluated by analyzing blood chemistry, so too can watershed health be assessed by monitoring river water chemistry.
Scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have joined with partners from around the world to investigate river chemistry in some of the Earth’s most significant river systems. Now active in 16 watersheds around the world the Global Rivers Observatory is measuring the chemical composition of rivers near their mouths where they empty into the ocean.
The Global Rivers Observatory is advancing understanding of how climate change, deforestation, and other disturbances are impacting river chemistry and how the land influences the ocean. This knowledge is vital for tracking the health of Earth’s watersheds and for predicting how Earth’s water and the cycling of chemicals will change in the future. As the human population approaches 9 billion people over the coming decades, this understanding will be essential as vast numbers of people that are dependent on the services rivers provide struggle to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.