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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 7:49 EDT

Seagrass Is A Climate Change Hero

May 22, 2012
Image Credit: Photos.com

Michael Crumbliss for RedOrbit.com

This week new research was published that points to seagrasses as a solution to climate change. Seagrass can store up to twice the carbon of the world´s terrestrial forests. The paper, “Seagrass Ecosystems as a Globally Significant Carbon Stock,” is the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses and was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.  The research was led by James Fourqurean of Florida International University, in partnership with scientists at the Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigation, the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Bangor University in the United Kingdom, the University of Southern Denmark, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Virginia.

The results are compelling.

Coastal seagrass beds can store 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer. Most of the carbon is stored in the soil beneath the beds. Terrestrial forests store about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer in wood.

Seagrass meadows make up 0 .2 percent of the world oceans but are responsible for 10% of the carbon buried in the sea annually.

“Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they’re a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation,” said James Fourqurean, the lead author of the paper and a scientist at and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.

Seagrass meadows, the researchers found, store ninety percent of their carbon in the soil–and continue to build on it for centuries.

In the Mediterranean, the geographic region with the greatest concentration of carbon found in the study, seagrass meadows store carbon in deposits many meters deep.

“Seagrasses have the unique ability to continue to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal seas,” said Fourqurean. “We found places where seagrass beds have been storing carbon for thousands of years.”

Seagrasses are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Some 29 percent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality. At least 1.5 percent of Earth’s seagrass meadows are lost every year. However, seagrass meadows can be brought back and carbon sinks re-established.

Seagrass has other benefits: it filters sediment from the oceans; protects coastlines against floods and storms; and serves as habitats for fish and other marine life.

The new results, say the scientists, emphasize that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores–while delivering important “ecosystem services” to coastal communities.

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Source: Michael Crumbliss for RedOrbit.com