To a large degree, river water chemistry is a function of processes occurring in the river’s watershed. As a result, changes on land also lead to changes in river chemistry. Much as human health can be evaluated by analyzing blood chemistry, so too can watershed health be assessed by monitoring river water chemistry.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have joined with partners from around the world to investigate river chemistry in Earth’s most significant river systems. Now active in 12 watersheds around the world – with the goal of expanding to several more – the Global Rivers Observatory is measuring the chemical composition of rivers near their mouths where they empty into the ocean.

The Global Rivers Observatory is advancing understanding of how climate change, deforestation, and other disturbances are impacting river chemistry and land-ocean linkages. This knowledge is vital for tracking the health of Earth’s watersheds and for predicting how Earth’s water and chemical cycles will change in the future. As the human population approaches 9 billion people over the coming decades, this understanding will be essential as vast numbers of people that are dependent on the services rivers provide struggle to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

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