Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 583–597 | Cite as

Wetlands, carbon, and climate change

  • William J. Mitsch
  • Blanca Bernal
  • Amanda M. Nahlik
  • Ülo Mander
  • Li Zhang
  • Christopher J. Anderson
  • Sven E. Jørgensen
  • Hans Brix
Research Article

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 

References

  1. Altor AE, Mitsch WJ (2006) Methane flux from created wetlands: relationship to intermittent versus continuous inundation and emergent macrophytes. Ecol Eng 28:224–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altor AE, Mitsch WJ (2008) Pulsing hydrology, methane emissions, and carbon dioxide fluxes in created marshes: a 2-year ecosystem study. Wetlands 28:423–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson CJ, Mitsch WJ (2006) Sediment, carbon, and nutrient accumulation at two 10-year-old created riverine marshes. Wetlands 26:779–792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson CJ, Mitsch WJ, Nairn RW (2005) Temporal and spatial development of surface soil conditions in two created riverine marshes. J Environ Qual 34:2072–2081PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartlett KB, Harriss RC (1993) Review and assessment of methane emissions from wetlands. Chemosphere 26:261–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bergamaschi PC, Frankenberg C, Meirink JF, Krol M, Dentener F, Wagner T. Platt U, Kaplan JO, Körner S, Heimann M, Goede A (2007) Satellite chartography of atmospheric methane from SCIAMACHY on board ENVISAT: 2. Evaluation based on inverse model simulations. J Geophys Res 112: D02304. doi:10.1029/2006JD007268
  7. Bernal B, Mitsch WJ (2008) A comparison of soil carbon pools and profiles in wetlands in Costa Rica and Ohio. Ecol Eng 34:311–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernal B, Mitsch WJ (2012) Comparing carbon sequestration in temperate freshwater wetland communities. Global Change Biology 18:1636–1647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bloom AA, Palmer PI, Fraser A, Reay DS, Frankenberg C (2010) Large-scale controls of methanogenesis inferred from methane and gravity spaceborne data. Science 327:322–325PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bridgham SD, Megonigal JP, Keller JK, Bliss NB, Trettin C (2006) The carbon balance of North American wetlands. Wetlands 26:889–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brix H, Sorrell BK, Lorenzen B (2001) Are Phragmites-dominated wetlands a net source or net sink of greenhouse gases? Aquat Bot 69:313–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chmura GL, Anisfeld SC, Cahoon DR, Lynch JC (2003) Global carbon sequestration in tidal, saline wetland soils. Global Biogeochem Cycles 17:1111. doi:10.1029/2002GB001917 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Craft C (2007) Freshwater input structures soil properties, vertical accretion, and nutrient accumulation of Georgia and U.S. tidal marshes. Limnol Oceanogr 52:1220–1230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Craft C, Clough J, Ehman J, Samantha J, Park R, Pennings P, Guo H, Machmuller M (2009) Forecasting the effects of sea-level rise on tidal marsh ecosystem services. Front Ecol Environ 7:73–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crow GE (2002) Aquatic plants of Palo Verde National Park and the Tempisque River Valley, 1st edn. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio), Costa RicaGoogle Scholar
  16. Delaune RD, Pezeshki RS (2003) The role of soil organic carbon in maintaining surface elevation in rapidly subsiding U.S. Gulf of Mexico coastal marshes. Water Air Soil Pollut 3:167–179Google Scholar
  17. Devol AH, Richey JE, Clark WA et al (1988) Methane emissions to the troposphere from the Amazon floodplain. J Geophys Res 93:1492–1583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Euliss NH, Gleason RA, Olness A, McDougal RL, Murkin HR, Robarts RD, Bourbonniere RA, Warner BG (2006) North American prairie wetlands are important nonforested land-based carbon storage sites. Sci Total Environ 361:179–188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frolking S, Roulet N, Fuglestvedt J (2006) How northern peatlands influence the Earth’s radiative budget: sustained methane emission versus sustained carbon sequestration. J Geophys Res 111:G01008CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fuglestvedt JS, Bernsten TK, Godal O, Sausen R, Shine KP, Skodvin T (2003) Metrics of climate change: assessing radiative forcing and emission indices. Clim Change 58:267–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gorham E (1991) Northern peatlands: role in the carbon cycle and probable responses to climatic warming. Ecol Appl 1:182–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Graham SA, Craft CB, McCormick PV, Aldous A (2005) Forms and accumulation of soil P in natural recently restored peatlands: Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, USA. Wetlands 25:594–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heikkinen JEP, Elsakov V, Martikainen PJ (2002) Carbon dioxide and methane dynamics and annual carbon budget in tundra wetland in NE Europe, Russia. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 16. doi:10.1029/2002GB0001930
  24. Hendriks DMD, van Huissteden J, Dolman AJ, van der Molen MK (2007) The full greenhouse gas balance of an abandoned peat meadow. Biogeosciences 4:411–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Howe AJ, Rodriguez JF, Saco PM (2009) Surface evolution and carbon sequestration in disturbed and undisturbed wetland soils of the Hunter Estuary, southeast Australia. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 84:75–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ilus E, Saxén R (2005) Accumulation of Chernobyl-derived 137Cs in bottom sediments of some Finish lakes. J Environ Radioact 82:199–221PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  28. King DA (1996) Allometry and life history of tropical trees. J Trop Ecol 12:25–44Google Scholar
  29. Koh H-S, Ochs CA, Yu K (2009) Hydrologic gradient and vegetation controls on CH4 and CO2 fluxes in a spring-fed forested wetland. Hydrobiologia 630:271–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lal R (2008) Carbon sequestration. Phil Trans R Soc B 363:815–830PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lehner B, Döll P (2004) Development and validation of a global database of lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands. J Hydrol 296:1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lenhart M (2009) An unseen carbon sink. Nature Reports Climate Change. doi:10.1038/climate.2009.125 Google Scholar
  33. Mander Ü, Lõhmus K, Teiter S, Mauring T, Nurk K, Augustin J (2008) Gaesous fluxes in the nitrogen and carbon budgets of subsurface flow constructed wetlands. Sci Total Environ 404:343–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Melack JM, Hess LL, Gastil M, Forsberg BR, Hamilton SK, Lima BT, Novo EMLM (2004) Regionalization of methane emissions in the Amazon Basin with microwave remote sensing. Glob Change Biol 10:530–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mitra S, Wassmann R, Vlek PLG (2005) An appraisal of global wetland area and its organic carbon stock. Curr Sci 88:25–35Google Scholar
  36. Mitsch WJ, Gosselink JG (2007) Wetlands, 4th edn. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  37. Mitsch WJ, Reeder BC (1991) Modelling nutrient retention of a freshwater coastal wetland: estimating the roles of primary productivity, sedimentation, resuspension and hydrology. Ecol Model 54:151–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mitsch WJ, Wu X, Nairn RW, Weihe PE, Wang N, Deal R, Boucher CE (1998) Creating and restoring wetlands: a whole-ecosystem experiment in self-design. Bioscience 48:1019–1030CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mitsch WJ, Zhang L, Anderson CJ, Altor A, Hernandez M (2005) Creating riverine wetlands: ecological succession, nutrient retention, and pulsing effects. Ecol Eng 25:510–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mitsch WJ, Tejada J, Nahlik AM, Kohlmann B, Bernal B, Hernández CE (2008) Tropical wetlands for climate change research, water quality management and conservation education on a university campus in Costa Rica. Ecol Eng 34:276–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mitsch WJ, Nahlik AM, Wolski P, Bernal B, Zhang L, Ramberg L (2010) Tropical wetlands: seasonal hydrologic pulsing, carbon sequestration, and methane emissions. Wetlands Ecol Manage 18:573–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mitsch WJ, Zhang L, Stefanik KC, Nahlik AM, Anderson CJ, Bernal B, Hernandez M, Song K (2012) Creating wetlands: primary succession, water quality changes, and self-design over 15 years. Bioscience 62:237–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Moore TR, Roulet NT (1995) Methane emissions from Canadian peatlands. In: Lal R, Kimble J, Levine E, Stewart BA (eds). Advances in soil science: soils and global change, CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 153–164Google Scholar
  44. Nahlik AM, Mitsch WJ (2010) Methane emissions from created riverine wetlands. Wetlands 30:783–793 with erratum 31:449–450Google Scholar
  45. Nahlik AM, Mitsch WJ (2011) Methane emissions from tropical freshwater wetlands located in different climatic zones of Costa Rica. Glob Change Biol 17:1321–1334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Page SE, Wust RAJ, Weiss D, Rieley JO, Shotyk W, Limin SH (2004) A record of late Pleistocene and Holocene carbon accumulation and climate change from an equatorial peat bog (Kalimantan, Indonesia): implications for past, present, and future carbon dynamics. J Quat Sci 19:625–635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Piao S, Fang JY, Ciais P, Peylin P, Huang Y, Sitch S, Wang T (2009) The carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems in China. Nature 458:1009–1013PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ramberg L, Wolski P, Krah M (2006) Water balance and infiltration in a seasonal floodplain in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Wetlands 26:677–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ramberg L, Lindholm M, Bonyongo C, Hessen DO, Heinl M, Masamba W, Murray-Hudson M, VanderPost C, Wolski P (2010) Aquatic ecosystem responses to fire and flood size in the Okavango Delta: observations from the seasonal floodplains. Wetlands Ecol Manage 18:587–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reddy KR, DeLaune RD, DeBusk WF, Koch MS (1993) Long-term nutrient accumulation rates in the Everglades. Soil Sci Soc Am J 57:1147–1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roulet NT (2000) Peatlands, carbon storage, greenhouse gases, and the Kyoto Protocol: prospects and significance for Canada. Wetlands 20:605–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Saunders MJ, Jones MB, Kansiime F (2007) Carbon and water cycles in tropical papyrus wetlands. Wetlands Ecol Manage 15:489–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schmidt, G (2004) Methane: a scientific journey from obscurity to climate super-stardom, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/200409_methane/
  54. Smith KA, Dobbie KE, Ball BC et al (2000) Oxidation of atmospheric methane in Northern European soils, comparison with other ecosystems, and uncertainties in the global terrestrial sink. Glob Change Biol 6:791–803CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sorrell BK, Boon PI (1992) Biogeochemistry of billabong sediments. II. Seasonal variations in methane production. Freshw Biol 27:435–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Suratman MH (2008) Carbon sequestration potential of mangroves in southeast Asia. In: Bravo F, LeMay V, Jandl R, von Gadow K (eds) Managing forest ecosystems. The challenge of climate change. Springer Science, The Netherlands, pp 297–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Trama FA, Rizo-Patrón FL, Kumar A, González E, Somma D, McCoy MB (2009) Wetland cover types and plant community changes in response to cattail-control activities in the Palo Verde Marsh, Costa Rica. Ecol Restor 27:278–289Google Scholar
  58. Turunen J, Tomppo E, Tolonen K, Reinkainen E (2002) Estimating carbon accumulation rates of undrained mires in Finland: application to boreal and subarctic regions. The Holocene 12:79–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Whalen SC (2005) Biogeochemistry of methane exchange between natural wetlands and the atmosphere. Environ Eng Sci 22:73–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whiting GJ, Chanton JP (2001) Greenhouse carbon balance of wetlands: methane emission versus carbon sequestration. Tellus 53B:521–528Google Scholar
  61. Yu K, Faulkner SP, Baldwin MJ (2008) Effect of hydrological conditions on nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide dynamics in a bottomland hardwood forest and its implication for soil carbon sequestration. Glob Change Biol 14:798–812CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • William J. Mitsch
    • 1
    • 4
  • Blanca Bernal
    • 1
  • Amanda M. Nahlik
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ülo Mander
    • 3
  • Li Zhang
    • 1
    • 4
  • Christopher J. Anderson
    • 1
    • 5
  • Sven E. Jørgensen
    • 6
  • Hans Brix
    • 7
  1. 1.Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research ParkThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology DivisionCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  4. 4.Everglades Wetland Research ParkFlorida Gulf Coast UniversityNaplesUSA
  5. 5.School of Forestry and Wildlife SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  6. 6.Institute A, Section of Environmental ChemistryCopenhagen UniversityCopenhagenDenmark
  7. 7.Department of Biological SciencesAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

Personalised recommendations