Not so dirty: Methane fuels life in pristine chalk rivers

Apr 01, 2014
The clear waters of chalk rivers sustain a diverse range of protected animals and plants. Researchers from Queen Mary University of London were surprised to find that naturally high concentrations of the greenhouse gas methane contributes to energy production in chalk rivers in a new study. Credit: Queen Mary University of London

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London have found that naturally high concentrations of the greenhouse gas methane contributes to energy production in chalk rivers, in a new study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Chalk rivers, found from Dorset to Cambridgeshire, sustain a diverse range of protected animals and plants, and are renowned globally for fly fishing, an industry worth more than £4M on the Rivers Test and Itchen (Hampshire) alone.

"It's a surprise to find is such a big source of energy in these gin-clear waters, famed for their luxuriant plant growth," said co-author Professor Mark Trimmer, Head of the Aquatic Ecology Group at Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

The researchers analysed the in over 30 rivers in Southern England, including the River Lambourn in Berkshire.

PhD student and co-author Felicity Shelley, who led the analysis, said: "In the riverbed of the Lambourn, the contribution of energy derived from methane to the varied seasonally, peaking in the summer when the concentrations were highest and trees and plants shaded the riverbed.

"The rapid growth of aquatic plants during the summer months prevents light from reaching the river bed and limits photosynthesis. Particular types of bacteria consume methane creating food for grazing insects, and consequently, the rest of the food web, including trout."

The research could have implications for the agriculture sector, which contributes to more than a third of . For example, fine sediments, washed into rivers from farmland used to grow crops are known to be sources of .

Professor Trimmer added: "We used to think energy from the breakdown of chemicals was only substantial in dark places where photosynthesis is impossible like deep oceans. Our findings require us to rethink what we know about chemosynthetic production."

Explore further: Global warming may increase methane emissions from freshwater ecosystems

More information: 'Widespread methanotropic primary production in lowland chalk rivers' will be published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on April 2: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rspb.2013.2854

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Water treatment could be carbon neutral

Mar 31, 2014

Carbon dioxide released by some wastewater treatment plants could be recycled at the same time as enhancing the production of renewable energy in the form of natural gas, say scientists.

Lots of carbon dioxide equivalents from aquatic environments

Mar 24, 2014

Large amounts of carbon dioxide equivalents taken up by plants on land are returned to the atmosphere from aquatic environments. This is the conclusions from a study carried out by two students at Linköping University, Sweden.

Recommended for you

Green dream: Can UN summit revive climate issue?

12 hours ago

Five years ago, the environment movement was in its heyday as politicians, actors, rock stars and protestors demanded a looming UN summit brake the juggernaut of climate change.

Rio's Olympic golf course in legal bunker

Sep 18, 2014

The return of golf to the Olympics after what will be 112 years by the time Rio hosts South America's first Games in 2016 comes amid accusations environmental laws were got round to build the facility in ...

User comments : 0