Water

Studying water cycles for deeper insights into climate change.

It’s been said that water is life. We are surrounded by it, we depend upon it, and we have much to learn from it. Just as a doctor uses blood pressure, pulse, and blood chemistry to gather clues about a patient’s health, Woodwell scientists track rainfall, river discharge, and water chemistry to see what changes are taking place—and to gain insights into how climate change, human development, and other disturbances are affecting the surrounding ecosystems.

Experts
All Water Experts

Long-term water studies at a global scale.

From the salt marshes in Plum Island, Massachusetts and the mangroves in Myanmar, to the glaciers and great rivers of the Arctic, to the vast watersheds of the Congo and the Amazon, Woodwell scientists work with a global network of researchers and citizen scientists to understand how the water cycle is changing in the world’s most critical ecosystems. Decades of analysis in water quality, quantity, and composition provide an unparalleled view of how both the land and the atmosphere is being transformed around us.

Above: Fresh water held in groundwater, rivers, and ice sustains and connects ecosystems.

Map by Carl Churchill

It also helps us think about how humans and wildlife can adapt to rapidly changing conditions—grappling with things like water scarcity or flooding—and how we can work to restore these critical systems before it’s too late. Whether that means halting clear-cutting or managing the use of fertilizers in Brazil, rebuilding cranberry bogs in New England, or protecting vital carbon sinks in Indonesia.

Ultimately, understanding the water cycle is critical because, not only does it cut across virtually every area of climate research at Woodwell, it’s absolutely vital to supporting ecosystem adaptation and improving resilience in a time of global change.

Where we’re focused

As water flows through ecosystems, it gathers sediment and nutrients—and rivers collect all of this. Joining together with partners from around the world, Woodwell researchers investigate water chemistry in Earth’s most significant river systems, measuring the flow and chemical composition of rivers to create an integrated picture of the effects of climate change and other disturbances on their watersheds.

Projects:

Global Rivers Observatory
Arctic Great Rivers Observatory
Cape Cod Rivers Observatory

 

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Above: Collecting and recording samples from the Kwethluk River in Alaska.

© John Le Coq

Coastal wetlands and marshes are critical biodiversity hotspots and an important part of both the water cycle and the carbon cycle as they relate to understanding climate change. Woodwell researchers study how things like fertilizer runoff, human development, and other disruptions affect these fragile ecosystems and important carbon sinks.

Projects:

The TIDE Project
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Above: TIDE Project 2019 summer research assistant Kate Armstrong works in the wetlands around Plum Island in Massachusetts.

Rivers and wetlands are the lifeblood of billions of humans and countless species of wildlife; their disruption can have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem. Working with local communities, Woodwell researchers are helping to restore these areas and protect the rich biodiversity they contain.

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Above: A cranberry bog in process of reverting to a natural state is monitored for soil and water health.

Photo courtesy of Michael Whittemore

Woodwell Climate researchers work with the residents of numerous communities to monitor the health of local waterways and wetlands. Our citizen scientists help collect and test the water samples that build a robust data network. These dedicated volunteers also serve as valuable representatives of their communities and help us share important science-based knowledge and solutions with it.

Projects:

Science on the Fly
Cape Cod Rivers Observatory
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Above: Long-time volunteer Rob Stenson works with Woodwell Climate scientists monitoring Cape Cod rivers.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Nassikas
Water connects every ecosystem we study, and climate change adds a layer of complexity to already intricate water systems. Woodwell Climate Research Center is a great place to do this work because of the interdisciplinary teams and collaborative approach to science. Dr. Marcia Macedo, Water Program Director