Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 583-597

Wetlands, carbon, and climate change

  • William J. MitschAffiliated withWilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, The Ohio State UniversityEverglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University Email author 
  • , Blanca BernalAffiliated withWilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, The Ohio State University
  • , Amanda M. NahlikAffiliated withWilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, The Ohio State UniversityU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology Division
  • , Ülo ManderAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu
  • , Li ZhangAffiliated withWilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, The Ohio State UniversityEverglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University
  • , Christopher J. AndersonAffiliated withWilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, The Ohio State UniversitySchool of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University
  • , Sven E. JørgensenAffiliated withInstitute A, Section of Environmental Chemistry, Copenhagen University
  • , Hans BrixAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Aarhus University

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Abstract

Wetland ecosystems provide an optimum natural environment for the sequestration and long-term storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, yet are natural sources of greenhouse gases emissions, especially methane. We illustrate that most wetlands, when carbon sequestration is compared to methane emissions, do not have 25 times more CO2 sequestration than methane emissions; therefore, to many landscape managers and non specialists, most wetlands would be considered by some to be sources of climate warming or net radiative forcing. We show by dynamic modeling of carbon flux results from seven detailed studies by us of temperate and tropical wetlands and from 14 other wetland studies by others that methane emissions become unimportant within 300 years compared to carbon sequestration in wetlands. Within that time frame or less, most wetlands become both net carbon and radiative sinks. Furthermore, we estimate that the world’s wetlands, despite being only about 5–8 % of the terrestrial landscape, may currently be net carbon sinks of about 830 Tg/year of carbon with an average of 118 g-C m−2 year−1 of net carbon retention. Most of that carbon retention occurs in tropical/subtropical wetlands. We demonstrate that almost all wetlands are net radiative sinks when balancing carbon sequestration and methane emissions and conclude that wetlands can be created and restored to provide C sequestration and other ecosystem services without great concern of creating net radiative sources on the climate due to methane emissions.

Keywords

Carbon dioxide Carbon sequestration Marsh Methane Methanogenesis Peatland Swamp Global carbon budget