True-color image of the Amazon River outflow, which extends thousands of kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean.
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Image Courtesy of Norman Kuring/NASA

The Amazon River Helps Power Atlantic Ocean Carbon “Sink”
News story originally written on July 21, 2008

A large plume of nutrient-rich waters flows from the Amazon River far out into the ocean. Scientists have found that microorganisms living in the flow of water coming out of the Amazon River into the ocean take in a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This finding shows that the tropical oceans and major rivers play a large role in the amount of carbon the ocean takes in from the atmosphere.

Scientists knew that ocean life in the tropical Atlantic Ocean put out carbon through respiration. The new study shows that the opposite also happens because a group of organisms called diazotrophs take nitrogen and carbon from the air and use them to survive in the nutrient-poor waters of the deep ocean. These processes are part of the carbon cycle.

The Amazon River has about one fifth of Earth's total river flow. Because it is so large, it is sometimes called "the river sea." Other large tropical rivers of the world may also capture carbon from the atmosphere and studies on such rivers are in progress.

Last modified October 3, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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