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Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration potential in restored wetlands of the Canadian prairie pothole region

Abstract

North American prairie pothole wetlands are known to be important carbon stores. As a result there is interest in using wetland restoration and conservation programs to mitigate the effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. However, the same conditions which cause these systems to accumulate organic carbon also produce the conditions under which methanogenesis can occur. As a result prairie pothole wetlands are potential hotspots for methane emissions. We examined change in soil organic carbon density as well as emissions of methane and nitrous oxide in newly restored, long-term restored, and reference wetlands across the Canadian prairies to determine the net GHG mitigation potential associated with wetland restoration. Our results indicate that methane emissions from seasonal, semi-permanent, and permanent prairie pothole wetlands are quite high while nitrous oxide emissions from these sites are fairly low. Increases in soil organic carbon between newly restored and long-term restored wetlands supports the conclusion that restored wetlands sequester organic carbon. Assuming a sequestration duration of 33 years and a return to historical SOC densities we estimate a mean annual sequestration rate for restored wetlands of 2.7 Mg C ha−1year−1 or 9.9 Mg CO2 eq. ha−1 year−1. Even after accounting for increased CH4 emissions associated with restoration our research indicates that wetland restoration would sequester approximately 3.25 Mg CO2 eq. ha−1year−1. This research indicates that widescale restoration of seasonal, semi-permanent, and permanent wetlands in the Canadian prairies could help mitigate GHG emissions in the near term until a more viable long-term solution to increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHGs can be found.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Ducks Unlimited Canada. We thank Leah Hartwig, Cassie Leclair, Amber Cuddington, Kim Novacs, Kim Phipps, Mark Brenner, Suzanne Card, Blayne Petrowicz for their assistance in the field. Dr. Rick Bourbonniere from the National Water Research Institute, Environment Canada, provided DOC analyses. We also thank Llwellyn Armstrong for statistical advice.

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Correspondence to Pascal Badiou.

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Badiou, P., McDougal, R., Pennock, D. et al. Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration potential in restored wetlands of the Canadian prairie pothole region. Wetlands Ecol Manage 19, 237–256 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-011-9214-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-011-9214-6

Keywords

  • Carbon sequestration
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Methane
  • Prairie pothole wetlands