How wetlands and marshes keep our climate safer

When we think of the ways that nature stores carbon produced by life, for recycling, we think of the great forests of the world and of the seas. Forests are vast but rapidly shrinking resources. Seas are becoming increasingly warm and increasing acidic. These changes are reducing the amount of carbon that the planet can store, and when the planet is producing carbon emissions in unnaturally large amounts this is cause for concern. However, one of nature’s ways of storing carbon, which is grossly underestimated by the world’s nations when it comes to supporting measures to protect from rapid climate change and that is in wetlands – moors marshes and deltas.

In the past a hundred years people have drained more than half the world’s wetlands and built housing on them. Some wetlands are now “protected” but the protection usually is from urban development, as opposed to measures that prevent the marshlands becoming, say farm grazing land.

Wetlands are threatened by pollution, ground water extraction, surplus chemical fertiliser run off and many other things which can and do occur outside the boundaries of the wetlands but have an effect of degrading wetlands or changing their vital characteristics, and with these changes go not only the biodiversity of the wetlands but also their ability to store the surplus carbon that humans are injecting into the atmosphere in increased quantities.

Recently researchers have been measuring the amounts of carbon stored in wetlands. The United States Geological Survey found, after studying wetlands that they created on abandoned farmland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, that this wetland was storing around three kilograms of carbon per square metre each year.

When you lose the wetland you lose the ability to store the carbon in a safe and natural way. Because of the way that wetlands store matter, often compacting into carbon rich peat, the carbon sequestration of wetlands is highly significant. As the wetlands vanish so the ability to sequestrate carbon is lost and replaced more frequently with carbon emissions.

There is another problem that arises when wetlands are degraded. In the course of their degradation wetlands release the stores of methane as well as the stores of carbon dioxide that they have hitherto safely held.

There are other advantages of keeping wetlands as they are, as those concerned in flood management are beginning to realise. Wetlands form a useful overspill area in times of floods.

In the past one hundred years six tenths of the planets wetlands have gone, changed in character and vanished. In the case of the Everglades it consisted of 8,100 square miles. Today the Everglades cover about of quarter of this size. However, the same rain falls on the same area. That area that is no longer the wetlands of the Everglades simply washes the water that falls onto it swiftly to the sea, instead of retaining the water, as wetlands do.

Some species are becoming extinct because they cannot adapt to the fast rate of change in the wetlands environment.

But it is not just about losing species; we are losing wetlands that help keep our planet’s climate stable and are part of a complex series of natural environments that keep the earth fit for maintaining human life. We lose the wetlands at our peril.

5 Responses

  1. […] this article: How wetlands and marshes keep our climate safer « Robert … Retweet this post Posted in blog post | Tags: grossly-underestimated, moors-marshes, […]

  2. Good post Robert, and one I touched upon briefly many moons ago, one of the biggest areas of our anti carbon synchronicity are the humongous palm groves throughout the world, it is a known fact that the draining of such areas contributes 20 times more methane/carbon pollution than the internal combustion engine and all the power station put together, it there was ever a gas to be concerned about it is METHANE.

    At the bottom of every ocean there is enough of this stuff locked away to create an instant dissaster on a scale we have never seen before, the Benthic regions of our oceans are some of our most important areas of the planet, once we loose control of these syncs its all over for mankind and the rest of its creatures, back to palm groves.

    Every time we buy something with palm oil in it we are encouraging the continued destruction of the said wetlands, palm groves have been around for quite a few decades now and are in the same class as the oil tar sands in that they use more energy per kilo than they get back, its only the very cheap labour rates in the countries in which they lie that enables them to make ends meet.

    These wetlands are not farmed like we know a farm nothing is put back into the system and eventually the yields drop off and the companies simply move sideways and destroy yet another natural carbon sync,

    Remember the word PALM OIL, it is in many diferent products from soap to cooking oil and is one of the many long term carbon footprints and planetary imbalances, which is now showing the first signs of cracking, old mother nature is having a really hard time of late in keeping up with our wastefull greedy ways.

    Our modern methods of forced crops have veered away from the natural cycle of replenishment and depletion, the land is constantly under attack from plough and tractor on an increasing scale, the land including the wetlands are being raped daily for our sustinance backed by big farma and big chema, in the opposite direction to true nature.

    This is being noticed today because something is happening to the bee population, they are dissapearing very quickly, five years on from the last bee on earth and we will follow suit, EINSTEIN, also check out Cannola and what it is doing via its GMO background.

    • Thanks for the comment. the difference between methane and CO2 is not just the greenhouse effect, but the longevity of each gas. Methane breaks down rapidly, CO2 takes a hundred years.

      You are 100% right to draw attention to palm oil; so much rain forest has been replaced with palm plantations, and this has hurt not only nature but also the indigenous peoples of the rain forests.

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