Published: Feb. 17, 2023
Katherine Lininger

Professor Katherine Lininger has received an NSF Career Award for her project titled, "Rivers of Carbon: assessing how humans have altered floodplain organic carbon stocks across the contiguous United States.” 

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. 

Project Abstract

This project evaluates how much organic carbon is stored in river floodplains in soil, vegetation, and downed wood across large spatial extents. It assesses how human activities such as levees, dams, and land use change have changed carbon storage in floodplains. Floodplains store large amounts of carbon, but there are no large scale estimates of how much carbon floodplains store or how human activities have changed carbon storage in the conterminous United States. The negative impacts of climate change on the environment and humans, motivating an interest in removing carbon from the atmosphere. Floodplains could store more carbon, but the potential for increasing carbon storage through changing how floodplains are managed is unclear. This project provides information to managers to inform floodplain management decisions. This project develops course activities for middle and high school students and trains graduate students in communicating science to policy makers and management agencies through interactions with non-profit organizations.

This project provides a comprehensive estimate of floodplain organic carbon storage across the conterminous United States to determine the impact of human activities on floodplain carbon storage. Recent work has indicated that floodplains likely store more carbon in floodplain soil, vegetation, and downed wood relative to areas outside of floodplains, but there is a lack of information on where and how much carbon is stored in floodplains. This project (1) compares floodplain carbon storage in human modified and unmodified floodplains through extensive fieldwork, (2) uses field-based estimates of floodplain carbon storage to determine whether it is accurate to use publicly available geospatial datasets to estimate floodplain carbon storage, (3) determines how much carbon is stored in floodplains and the potential storage if human modifications (for example, levees, dams, and land use change) were reduced, and (4) creates course modules for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and disseminates outreach materials for non-profit organizations. The project builds a science of floodplain carbon storage to apply new data and analysis to floodplain management. It also helps determine the locations within watersheds where maximum floodplain carbon storage occurs.