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Global surface area of rivers, streams 45% higher than thought

New Delhi : A new assessment based on a recent NASA-funded research study in the United States has found that global river and stream surface area is as much as 45 per cent greater than previously understood.

The significantly higher river and stream surface area calculation has important implications for understanding global carbon emissions as all rivers and streams are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

For the study, researchers from the University of North Carolina and Texas A&M University used satellite images, on-the-ground measurements and a statistical model to determine how much of the earth is covered by rivers and streams, replacing previous theoretical extrapolations of small amounts of data.

The latest research differs from past studies of global river and stream surface areas that were based on theoretical extrapolations of small amounts of actual data.

In this study, the research team was able to directly measure both the smallest streams and world's largest rivers through on-the-ground measurements and satellite images, and then use a statistical model to estimate river and stream coverage across the globe. As part of the study, the researchers built the Global River Widths from Landsat database, which contains almost 60 million measurements of river width worldwide.

"As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it's really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle," said Tamlin Pavelsky, senior author and associate professor of global hydrology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"Our new calculation helps scientists better assess how much carbon dioxide is moving from rivers and streams into the atmosphere each year."

NASA will use data from this research to identify river segments during its NASA Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission, which will launch in 2021. The mission will be NASA's first satellite mission specifically focused on measuring rivers and lakes.

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