Climate scientists spend a lot of time studying the past to predict the future. Now, you might be recalling all the times we’ve talked about the danger of thinking you can figure out the future just by studying the past. That certainly stands, but the fact is, you have to start somewhere. Going back to what has come before can provide a valuable baseline for understanding how one thing affects another and can contribute to the development of the climate over time.
One of the places scientists go to help understand the climate of past ages is the ocean, specifically the ocean bottom. They collect samples and study them for levels of a variety of different elements including calcium, strontium, magnesium, lithium, barium, and several more. These can give a snapshot of the past, giving scientists an idea of how much carbon is present in the ocean, the rate at which the crust is breaking down and more. However, these results might have been skewed because they left out contributions of groundwater.
Some scientists have brought up the idea that groundwater might be contributing these elements to the ocean but those concerns have typically been dismissed as insignificant. That, however, has changed with a new study by Kimberley Mayfield. The University of California doctoral candidate did her thesis on the subject. She built a library of hundreds of groundwater samples by begging them off of anyone she could. While still preliminary, that study shows that a surprising amount of the above elements are getting into the ocean from the groundwater when it leaches out into the rivers.
This is also important for the climate in other ways as these elements also contribute to the growth of phytoplankton near the mouths of rivers. Phytoplankton are tiny little critters that form the basis of significant parts of the food chain. When there are more of them, it can help fuel populations of other species of marine life. However, if other factors are depressing the fish population, the plankton can grow out of control and wind up using other resources and wind up choking out other life.
No doubt Mayfield’s study will help drive other work that will improve our understanding of the ocean and its effect on the climate. It’s also a good illustration of the TARTLE model at work. No, she didn’t use TARTLE but what she did is use a system that isn’t very different. In getting groundwater samples from many different people in many different walks of life, she unknowingly adopted a very TARTLE-like process. She solicited data straight from the source and used it to draw her conclusions.
Future researchers can do the same through TARTLE’s digital marketplace. What’s more, it would be possible to conduct research into what is going into the groundwater. By asking users to share data on how much bleach, detergent, and other household items they use, scientists could get a solid picture of how much of all of that is getting into the groundwater. That information could then be combined with data from groundwater samples. If the process is repeated for several regions it would be possible to see clearly how much environmental impact one person has based on his daily habits. We would actually be able to develop a more accurate climate model using information that covers every stage from the manufacturing of various products, to those products being used, to the groundwater and out into the ocean. This kind of analysis has become possible only recently but it will be sure to be invaluable in the near future. That’s the kind of thing TARTLE makes possible, we open up the opportunity for average people to contribute to the greater understanding of the world we live in and how we affect it.
What’s your data worth? Sign up and join the TARTLE Marketplace with this link here.