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Oops. Indian carbon accounting adds lakes, rivers, and changes tally by 42%. Who’s bet billions of dollars on fudgy numbers?

Indian researchers have realized that the carbon modelers there had vastly underestimated the CO2 and CH4 given off by the parts of India covered in water, and when they put them in, they discovered they were churning out methane and carbon dioxide and the output was equal to 42% of what the Indian forests, farms and gardens were absorbing. (Lucky that only one sixth of humanity lives in India, eh?)

Humans are putting out less than 4% of total natural emissions of CO2  (as far as we can tell) – but obviously, we don’t even know what those natural emissions are  — it’s like plus or minus forty percent. (Say hello to the Pacific Ocean and make that plus or minus 100%). Carbon accounting is a fog of best guesses.

And people trade global markets on this?

Below the authors explain why their estimates are so much better than past ones, but why they still don’t know the real answer. They also explain why the numbers change from place to place, river to river, and even from morning tea to dinner time.

The bottom line is that even suggesting a carbon market globally is an invitation to global rorting. In come the sharks, the smoochers, the white collar crims, and the bun fight ensues over who can wheel and deal their way to rules about an invisible ubiquitous gas which changes from spot to spot and minute to minute and is produced by everything, all of the time, but at ever changing rates. It’s a global game where the players  pretend they care about the planet while channeling the river of money their way.

h/t to The Hockey Schtick

In the national GHG inventory of India, wetlands (inland and coastal waters) were considered in the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector (INCCA, 2010). Because the data on inland and coastal water emissions were scarce, they were not included in the budgets, and the LULUCF sector was estimated to be acting as a sink of 177.0 Tg CO2 yr-1  in 2007 (INCCA, 2010). However, the here presented data show that India’s water bodies are emitting large amounts of CH4 and CO2 to the atmosphere. If our CH4 flux is expressed as CO2 equivalents and combined with the CO2 flux, and assuming a representative extrapolation, about 75 Tg CO2 equivalents yr -1 is being emitted from India’s inland waters (Table 4). This is equal to about 42% of the estimated land sink of India.

It’s not and was never about the real number of carbon molecules. It’s about what gets counted and what doesn’t, and may the best player win. It’s about networking, machinations, negotiations and estimates; a billion here, a billion there, and soon we’re talking real money.

Let me just say, look at the range on the mean partial pressure mentioned in the abstract. What if we run a global market based on agreements where $3000 was paid which meant you received a range of $400 – $11,467? Happy?

Inland waters were recently recognized to be important sources of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, and including inland water emissions in large scale greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets may potentially offset the estimated carbon sink in many areas. However, the lack of GHG flux measurements and well-defined inland water areas for extrapolation, make the  magnitude of the potential offset unclear. This study presents coordinated flux measurements of CH4 and CO2 in multiple lakes, ponds, rivers, open wells, reservoirs, springs, and canals in India. All these inland water types, representative of common aquatic ecosystems in India, emitted substantial amounts of CH4 and a major fraction also emitted CO2. The total CH4 flux (including  ebullition and diffusion) from all the 45 systems ranged from 0.01 to 52.1 mmol m -2 d-1, with a mean of 7.8  12.7 (mean  1 SD) mmolm -2 d-1. The mean surface water CH4 concentration was 3.8 ± 14.5 lM (range 0.03–92.1 lM). The CO2 fluxes ranged from 28.2 to 262.4 mmol m -2 d-1 and the mean flux was 51.9 ± 71.1 mmol m -2 d-1. The mean partial pressure of CO2 was 2927  ± 3269 µatm  (range: 400–11,467 µatm). Conservative extrapolation to whole India, considering the specific area of the different water types  studied, yielded average emissions of 2.1 Tg CH4 yr-1 and 22.0 Tg CO2 yr 1 from India’s inland waters. When expressed as CO2 equivalents, this amounts to 75 Tg CO2 equivalents yr -1 (53–98 Tg CO2 equivalents yr -1;  ± 1 SD), with CH4 contributing 71%. Hence, average inland water GHG emissions, which were not previously considered, correspond to 42% (30–55%) of the estimated land carbon sink of India. Thereby this study illustrates the importance of considering inland water GHG exchange in large scale assessments.

Look at the big numbers here.  The authors are telling us there are lots of reasons why their estimate is a better stab in the dark than past studies, and may still underestimate the effect of all the bodies of water in India. India is 2.8% of the world’s land area (not that that means anything much in the grand fog of unknowns).

 Possible inaccuracies in inland water area.

The first Indian inventory of ecologically and socio-economically important inland and coastal waters for conservation purposes was made by Scott (1989). This estimated the total area to be 582 000 km2, including area under rice cultivation, but excluding rivers. The first national inventory of all the inland and coastal waters using satellite images taken during the years 1992– 1993 at 1 : 250 000 scale was prepared by Garg et al. (1998). The total area was estimated to be 82 600 km2 excluding rice fields, rivers, irrigation channels, and canals. The recent update to this inventory (total area of about 152 600 km2; excluding rice fields) was provided  using satellite images from the years 2006–2007 at 1 : 50 000 scale by SAC (2011). Here, the minimum size of water body mapped was 0.022 km2, whereas in the 1998 estimate it was 0.56 km2. The latest inventory estimates the area of rivers/streams to be around 52 600 km2, which partly explains the big difference in the area by both inventories. The rest could be attributed to the higher resolution images used by the 2011 inventory. Yet, the most recent river/stream area does not include streams with areas smaller than the threshold. Thereby, our study underestimates the river/stream fluxes.

Obviously lakes, rivers and wetlands are kinda important, but  I happen to know that the world’s best carbon accounting model (FullCAM*) in Australia doesn’t include rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and so on and so forth. The only thing I can say is lucky Australia is so dry. A similar study here would probably not make as much difference. Just a few billion dollars worth here or there.

With admirably honesty the authors tell us that their study doesn’t tell us much about other places, because in West Africa CO2 declines at peak river flow, while in the Amazon it does the opposite. In other words, every water body is different; it’s different in summer and winter, at peak flow, or slow flow, and in the morning, versus the afternoon. (Look at the range on the morning readings compared to other times  (range = - 52% to 880%). Who are we kidding?

A study in the Godavari estuary, Cochin estuary and Chilka lake (brackish lagoon) in India has found substantially higher levels of pCO2 during monsoon fed peak discharges when compared with the dry periods (Gupta et al., 2008, 2009; Sarma et al., 2011). Carbon dioxide concentration measurements in Amazon rivers and floodplain lakes have shown that the concentrations were higher in high water season due to increase in carbon inputs and respiration (Richey et al., 2002; al., 2011; Rasera et al., 2013). Studies in West African rivers and in a subtropical monsoon river have shown a decrease in pCO2 during high flow  because of dilution by flood waters (Yao et al., 2007; Kone et al., 2009). In summary, these tropical studies are not showing any conclusive general patterns, indicating increased CH4 and CO2 emissions during high water (wet season) in some cases and decreased or no change in emissions in some other cases.

Carbon dioxide emissions in the morning were on an average 157% (range = - 52% to 880%, median = 46%,n = 14) higher than afternoon or evening measurements and pCO2 were 150% higher (range = 63 to 458%, median = 115%, n = 5). Hence, there is a possibility that our CO2 fluxes were underestimated because it was not possible to perform nighttime flux measurements in all systems for safety reasons.


Balathandayuthabani Panneer Selvam1,†, Sivakiruthika Natchimuthu1,  Lakshmanan Arunachalam2 and David Bastviken1, Methane and carbon dioxide emissions from inland waters in India – implications for large scale greenhouse gas balances, Global Change Biology,  DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12575 [Abstract]

*Yes well obviously I’m biased about FullCAM. Dr David Evans built it, and I’m married to him. (Yes, I interviewed him for this story.)

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