Focus |

Inland waters under threat

Inland aquatic systems connect headwater systems of streams and ponds to rivers and lakes downstream, transporting sediment, nutrients, biota and contaminants. In this web focus, we present a collection of articles and opinion pieces from Nature Geoscience about inland aquatic systems; the hydrological, chemical and biological functions they provide to ecosystems; their influence on biogeochemical cycles and the threats they face due to human demands and climate change.


Enhanced protection is needed for freshwater bodies in the United States — in particular impermanent streams and wetlands outside floodplains — according to an assessment of their value and vulnerability.

Perspective | | Nature Geoscience

Many of the world's saline lakes have been shrinking due to consumptive water use. The Great Salt Lake, USA, provides an example for how the health of and ecosystem services provided by saline lakes can be sustained.

Perspective | | Nature Geoscience

A substantial amount of atmospheric carbon taken up on land is transported laterally from upland terrestrial ecosystems to the ocean. A synthesis of the available literature suggests that human activities have significantly increased soil carbon inputs to inland waters, but have only slightly affected carbon delivery to the open ocean.

Review Article | | Nature Geoscience

Rivers may be efficient environments for metabolizing terrestrial organic carbon that was previously thought to be recalcitrant, owing to pockets that provide geophysical opportunities by retaining material for longer, and to the adaptation of microbial communities, which has enabled them to exploit the energy that escapes upstream ecosystems.

Progress Article | | Nature Geoscience

Research – Environmental influence

Research – Human impacts


The world's inland waters are under siege. A system-level view of watersheds is needed to inform both our scientific understanding and management decisions for these precious resources.

Editorial | | Nature Geoscience

Debate rages over which water bodies in the US are protected under federal law by the Clean Water Act. Science shows that isolated wetlands and headwater systems provide essential downstream services, but convincing politicians is another matter.

News & Views | | Nature Geoscience

Quality requirements for water differ by intended use. Sustainable management of water resources for different uses will not only need to account for demand in water quantity, but also for water temperature and salinity, nutrient levels and other pollutants.

Commentary | | Nature Geoscience

Satellite measurements indicate that Greenland's meltwater rivers are exporting one billion tons of sediment annually, a process that is controlled by the sliding rate of glaciers. This rate is nearly 10% of the fluvial sediment discharge to the ocean.

News & Views | | Nature Geoscience

Phosphorus loading can cause eutrophication of lakes. Analyses of lake chemistry in China reveal that policies have led to lower phosphorus levels overall, but increasing trends in some lakes suggest that expanded policies may be needed.

News & Views | | Nature Geoscience

The terrestrial water cycle is often assessed annually at catchment scale. But water stored in catchments is poorly mixed, and at timescales often well beyond the calculation of annual water balance.

Commentary | | Nature Geoscience

Climate change is causing widespread permafrost thaw in the Arctic. Measurements at 33 Arctic lakes show that old carbon from thawing permafrost is being emitted as methane, though emission rates have not changed during the past 60 years.

News & Views | | Nature Geoscience