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Assessment of Carbon Sequestration Potential in Coastal Wetlands

  • James T. MorrisEmail author
  • James Edwards
  • Stephen Crooks
  • Enrique Reyes
Chapter

Abstract

This paper describes model (Marsh Equilibrium Model) simulations of the unit area carbon sequestration potential of contemporary coastal wetlands before and following a projected 1 m rise in sea level over the next century. Unit rates ranged typically from 0.2 to 0.3 Mg C ha−1 year−1 depending primarily on the rate of sea-level rise, tidal amplitude, and the concentration of suspended sediment (TSS). Rising sea level will have a significant effect on the carbon sequestration of existing wetlands, and there is an optimum tide range and TSS that maximize sequestration. In general, the results show that carbon sequestration and inventories are greatest in mesotidal estuaries. Marshes with tidal amplitudes <50 cm and TSS < 20 mg l−1 are unlikely to survive a 1 m rise in sea level during the next century. The majority of the United States coastline is dominated by tidal amplitude less than 1 m. The areal extent of coastal wetlands will decrease following a 1 m rise in sea level if existing wetland surfaces <1 m fail to maintain elevation relative to mean sea level, i.e. expansion by transgression will be limited by topography. On the other hand, if the existing vegetated surfaces survive, coastal wetland area could expand by 71%, provided there are no anthropogenic barriers to migration. The model-derived contemporary rate of carbon sequestration for the conterminous United States was estimated to be 0.44 Tg C year−1, which is at the low end of earlier accounts. Following a 1 m rise in sea level, with 100% survival of existing wetland surfaces, rates of carbon sequestration rise to 0.58 and 0.73 Tg C year−1 at TSS = 20 and 80 mg l−1, respectively, or 32–66% higher than the contemporary rate. Globally, carbon sequestration by coastal wetlands accounts for probably less than 0.2% of the annual fossil fuel emission. Thus, coastal wetlands sequester a small fraction of global carbon fluxes, though they take on more significance over long time scales. The deposits of carbon in wetland soils are large. There have been large losses of coastal wetlands due to their conversion to other land uses, which creates opportunities for restoration that are locally significant.

Keywords

Marsh equilibrium model Suspended solids Carbon sequestration Coastal ecosystems Coastal wetlands Tidal marshes Mangroves Carbon stocks Autochthonous Sea level rise Anthropogenic disturbance Holocene Organic rich soil Subsidence Diking Drainage Digital elevation model Tide range Primary productivity Tidal amplitude 

Abbreviations

Bs

standing biomass density

C

carbon

D

depth of the marsh surface below MHW

DEM

Digital Elevation Model

EOS

end-of-season

GHG

greenhouse gas

MEM

Marsh Equilibrium Model

MHW

mean high water

MSL

mean sea level

Mg

megagram

NWI

National Wetlands Inventory

OM

organic matter

RSLR

rate of sea-level rise

kr

refractory fraction of root and rhizome production

Br

root and rhizome production

ϕ

root:shoot quotient

ρ

sediment dry bulk density

q

settling velocity

SRTM

Shuttle Radar Topography Mission

SOC

soil organic carbon

m

suspended solids

Tg

Teragram

T

tide range

TSS

total suspended solids

ks

trapping coefficient

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grants from the NSF, SERDP, NOAA and USGS. No endorsement of the conclusions by these agencies is implied. Contribution no. 1644 of the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal Sciences, University of South Carolina.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James T. Morris
    • 1
    Email author
  • James Edwards
    • 2
  • Stephen Crooks
    • 3
  • Enrique Reyes
    • 4
  1. 1.The Belle Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Marine Sciences ProgramUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Climate Change ServicesESA PWA | Environmental HydrologySan FranciscoUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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