Carbon from salt marshes may slow global warming

CO2 and global warmingAccording to a recently released report, by an an environmental scientist in Virginia, rising ocean levels along with warmer climates, allows the marshes to more quickly absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. The report was circulated in the September 27th issue of Nature magazine.

According to the theory of the greenhouse gas effect, emission of carbon dioxide, produced by consumption of fossil fuels, traps heat over the earths’ surface. The trapped heat is responsible for the warmer climates, and the melting of the polar ice that results in the rising sea levels.

Matt Kirwin, the leading author of the study, who is also a research assistant at the Arts and Science College, states the indications are that increased proliferation of coastal ecosystems, such as sea marshes and mangroves, can lead to better absorption of CO2 gases, resulting less warming.

Salt marshes, are composed primarily of grasses, and are critical components in an ecosystem that helps to protect coastlines during storms. They also provide a natural habitat and life support for a wide range of wildlife, that includes mammals, birds, shellfish and mollusks. Salt marshes are also responsible for increased land elevation on the coastlines, when sediment is trapped during floods, and new soil is produced when matter decays.

Kirwan explains what makes salt marshes unique as a complete ecosystem, is that they depend on the carbon to survive. In addition to absorbing the carbon dioxide, the growth of roots, increases the elevation, while the plants are kept above the water level. The carbon is absorbed, stored and used to grow, while elevation continues to increase. The model predicts that with increased rates of in the rise of ocean levels , the trapped carbon, can increase by four hundred percent, as the grass in the sediment decays.

It can be expected that the importance of the ecosystems will become much more apparent and hopefully more noticeable in the very near future as the climate gets warmer.It is a natural way to remove the damaging effects of carbon emissions without affection the balance of the ecosystem

The research also indicates that rates in the increase of ocean levels should be moderated. If the sea level increases too fast, the increase in elevation rates may not be enough to keep up, and the roots and plants may eventually be inundated and may eventually be overwhelmed by the ocean. If the marshes were overwhelmed by faster rising seas, the ability to absorb and store carbon would no longer be available, resulting in warmer temperatures, and more rising seas.

The research supported by the Global Change Geological survey program in the United States, can be used to reveal that if the levels of the ocean increases too quickly, the amassing of carbon becomes ineffective. As is common in natural ecosystems, there is a balance to be maintained in order for the system to be effective, and imbalances can have drastic effects.

The study conducted and co-authored by Kirwin and Simon Mudd, who is also a researcher in geosciences in Edinburgh, employed computer modelling techniques to predict the growth rates of salt marshes during various climates change and ocean-level scenarios.

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