Carbon Sinks in Estuaries Degraded by Industrial Activity

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The ability of the world’s estuaries, salt marshes, and mangrove swamps to sequester carbon has been seriously degraded by industrial activity, according to a study by Australian researchers.

Scientists at the University of Technology, Sydney, examined layers of estuary sediment in Sydney’s Botany Bay for the past 6,000 years. They found that sea grass abundance has declined sharply, while quantities of micro-algae have soared.

Increasing nitrogen deposition and pollution are the main culprits in destroying seagrass beds, which have the capacity to store as much as 100 times more carbon than micro-algae.

The researchers dated the sediments using radiocarbon dating and determined the plant makeup of the Botany Bay estuary by examining isotopic ratios of seagrass versus micro-algae.

Reporting in the journal Global Change Biology, lead researcher Peter Macreadie said the results show the importance of preserving and restoring so-called “blue carbon habitats” in the world’s wetlands and estuaries.

The partial loss of these carbon sinks has “severely hampered the ability of nature to reset the planet’s thermostat.”

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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