Assessing the carbon and climate benefit of restoring degraded agricultural peat soils to managed wetlands
Restoring degraded peat soils presents an attractive, but largely untested, climate change mitigation approach. Drained peat soils used for agriculture can be large greenhouse gas sources. By restoring subsided peat soils to managed, impounded wetlands, significant agricultural emissions are avoided, and soil carbon can be sequestered and protected. Here, we synthesize 36 site-years of continuous carbon dioxide and methane flux data from a mesonetwork of eddy covariance towers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California, USA to compute carbon and greenhouse gas budgets for drained agricultural land uses and compare these to restored deltaic wetlands. We found that restored wetlands effectively sequestered carbon and halted soil carbon loss associated with drained agricultural land uses. Depending on the age and disturbance regime of the restored wetland, many land use conversions from agriculture to restored wetland resulted in emission reductions over a 100-year timescale. With a simple model of radiative forcing and atmospheric lifetimes, we showed that restored wetlands do not begin to accrue greenhouse gas benefits until nearly a half century, and become net sinks from the atmosphere after a century. Due to substantial interannual variability and uncertainty about the multi-decadal successional trajectory of managed, restored wetlands, ongoing ecosystem flux measurements are critical for understanding the long-term impacts of wetland restoration for climate change mitigation.