Study on Cultural Carbon in the Mississippi River

February 02, 2023

Researchers collect water sample from Mississippi River

LSU Renewable Natural Resources graduate students, Anamika Dristi and Lee Potter, collect samples of surface water released from the Baton Rouge wastewater treatment plant into the Mississippi River.

– Photo provided by Yi-Jun Xu/LSU AgCenter

LSU researchers are conducting a first-of-its-kind study exploring carbon transport in the Mississippi River that may lead to global applications.

For the past ten years, LSU hydrologist Yi-Jun Xu has been studying dissolved carbon transport along the Mississippi River system to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the emission of carbon into the atmosphere.

In the Mississippi River system, the carbon can either be carried into the Gulf of Mexico as an important food source for aquatic organisms or be returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by humans.

Xu has received funding from the Provost's Fund for Innovative Research to expand his study.

“ Carbon's an important element for the biological system, but we don't know how much carbon is in the river that actually does not come from the natural system, but from human impact. ”

His team is collecting samples from two wastewater treatment plants in Baton Rouge. They analyze the amount of dissolved organic and inorganic carbon in treated water directly from the plant and when it is released back into the river. With the funding, Xu plans to expand the study in New Orleans and other areas in the Mississippi River Basin.

"This kind of assessment has never been done before. We want to get an idea of how much carbon per person or per capital contributes every year to the river," Xu said. "If we have such information, we can estimate human direct contribution of carbon to the river from the entire Mississippi River Basin."


Read more about Xu's research