Humans shape the journey of mud, study reveals

A small, long-beaked bird roots for food in muddy tidal flats

Mud-trapped carbon tells us about past and current climate shifts (Adobe Stock)

Mud can be surprisingly clear. A global team of scientists has uncovered a hidden truth: Human actions are shaping the journey of mud. Over the course of decades, our activities have wielded significant influence over the movement and dispersion of mud, affecting carbon storage and cycling worldwide.

The new study, led by University of Florida biogeochemist Thomas Bianchi, holds significant implications for understanding historical climate shifts and potential future scenarios. The researchers identified direct links between human activities and the movement of mud from its source to its destination.

Published today in Nature Geoscience, the research examines the heightened flow of mud and related organic carbon in diverse environments. The team identified direct links between human interventions, such as dam construction, levee-building, and land-use changes, and the reshaping of mud flow patterns globally.

Mud holds profound insights into how our planet operates. It serves as a linchpin in how carbon moves around our planet. It’s a key player in regulating Earth’s climate by storing and cycling carbon. Mud also acts as a repository for organic carbon, playing a pivotal role in its sequestration and burial across landscapes.

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Lauren Barnett April 9, 2024