On the same hot day, children will play in a sprinkler, a farmer will dip his head in a barrel, and an elephant herd will rush down to a waterhole to nourish their young. Water nourishes the planet. But while it sustains life, it can also deliver harm, washing toxins and disease into the lives of those living downstream.

It can be said that water integrates, shapes, nurtures and informs. How does it inform? Everyone knows it leaves a path that tells us something about where summer rains flowed or where glaciers have carved magnificent valleys, but it also conveys chemical information. Just as the blood can be analyzed to find out what’s wrong with a human body, so too can river water be analyzed to find out how a watershed is doing.

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Photo credit Joel Sartore/National Geographic.

Advancing Science. Informing Solutions.

  • In the Brazilian Amazon, WHRC conducts studies on the effects of forest and agricultural management on transfers of water and energy to the air and to rivers, affecting the lifeline resource that water is for people as well as the climate that we depend upon.
  • In the Amazon we work with local fishing communities and governments to develop sustainable fisheries management plans based on scientific research of fish life cycles and habitat needs as well as socio-economic surveys of the practices and needs of families.
  • In the major rivers of the world, we monitor water chemistry, enabling detection of trends of water quality that are related to upstream management of forests and agricultural lands.
  • In the Arctic, we analyze the carbon dissolved in the river water to determine how thawing of permafrost due to climate change, and the loss of carbon previously stored in those frozen soils is being released to the air and water. This is crucial for understanding how the rate of climate change caused by human use of fossil fuels, may be accelerated by thawing permafrost.