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Can salt marshes prevent climate change, or are they simply a delay-action bomb?

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Plants growing over salt marshes and wetlands have been a subject of interest for many researchers dealing with climate change. As this is by far one of the most widely discussed topics of the past decades, many world-leading scientists have tried to explain, predict and hopefully find ways to mitigate and control raising temperatures and sea-level.

Recently, a publication in the journal “Nature”, discussed the role of grasses and shrubs, native to wetlands across India and the United States, in absorbing heat-trapping Carbon. It is known that most of this Carbon gets stored underground, from where it cannot be released in the atmosphere.

According to scientists, increased temperatures and higher sea level will intensify the process of Carbon storage. Melting of the Antarctic ice causes expansion of ocean water, and hence would stimulate the growth of wetland plants. Salt marshes are expected to absorb around two kilos of organic matter per square meter per year, until the sea level rise exceeds 1mm a year.

 However, as Matthew Kirwan (University of Verginia), the lead author of the publication states, this could last only until mid – 21st century when water logging of these plants could potentially trigger transfer of Carbon to the sediment. The process of erosion by wind or water could then initiate the release of the stored gasses. Furthermore, constant flooding of the plant roots could prevent the oxygen intake and ultimately destroy the wetland vegetation.

Considering that the U.N. panel of climatologists predicts a worse-case scenario of 59cm sea-level rise by 2100, it is interesting to note whether more marshes would be created inland, following Kirwan’s predictions. He reports that currently between 10 and 130 million tonnes of Carbon are absorbed by wetlands worldwide per year, which is comparable with the emissions of greenhouse gasses of countries such as Italy or Mexico.

Hopefully, this study will serve as a stepping stone for future research and more and more efforts will be directed towards protection of these carbon stores.

Via: Reuters

Photo via: Division of Forests and Lands

 

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