Blue carbon is the organic carbon in oceanic and coastal ecosystems that is captured on centennial to millennial timescales. Maintaining and increasing blue carbon is an integral component of strategies to mitigate global warming. Marine vegetated ecosystems (especially seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and tidal marshes) are blue carbon hotspots and their degradation and loss worldwide have reduced organic carbon stocks and increased CO2 emissions. Carbon markets, and conservation and restoration schemes aimed at enhancing blue carbon sequestration and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, will be aided by knowing the provenance and fate of blue carbon. We review and critique current methods and the potential of nascent methods to track the provenance and fate of organic carbon, including: bulk isotopes, compound-specific isotopes, biomarkers, molecular properties, and environmental DNA (eDNA). We find that most studies to date have used bulk isotopes to determine provenance, but this approach often cannot distinguish the contribution of different primary producers to organic carbon in depositional marine environments. Based on our assessment, we recommend application of multiple complementary methods. In particular, the use of carbon and nitrogen isotopes of lipids along with eDNA have a great potential to identify the source and quantify the contribution of different primary producers to sedimentary organic carbon in marine ecosystems. Despite the promising potential of these new techniques, further research is needed to validate them. This critical overview can inform future research to help underpin methodologies for the implementation of blue carbon focused climate change mitigation schemes.
Blue Carbon & Sequestration
Human‐caused shifts in carbon (C) cycling and biotic exchange are defining characteristics of the Anthropocene. In marine systems, saltmarsh, seagrass, and mangrove habitats—collectively known as “blue carbon” and coastal vegetated habitats (CVHs)—are a leading sequester of global C and increasingly impacted by exotic species invasions. There is growing interest in the effect of invasion by a diverse pool of exotic species on C storage and the implications for ecosystem‐based management of these systems. In a global meta‐analysis, we synthesized data from 104 papers that provided 345 comparisons of habitat‐level response (plant and soil C storage) from paired invaded and uninvaded sites. We found an overall net effect of significantly higher C pools in invaded CVHs amounting to 40% (±16%) higher C storage than uninvaded habitat, but effects differed among types of invaders. Elevated C storage was driven by blue C‐forming plant invaders (saltmarsh grasses, seagrasses, and mangrove trees) that intensify biomass per unit area, extend and elevate coastal wetlands, and convert coastal mudflats into C‐rich vegetated habitat. Introduced animal and structurally distinct primary producers had significant negative effects on C pools, driven by herbivory, trampling, and native species displacement. The role of invasion manifested differently among habitat types, with significant C storage increases in saltmarshes, decreases in seagrass, and no significant effect in mangroves. There were also counter‐directional effects by the same species in different systems or locations, which underscores the importance of combining data mining with analyses of mean effect sizes in meta‐analyses. Our study provides a quantitative basis for understanding differential effects of invasion on blue C habitats and will inform conservation strategies that need to balance management decisions involving invasion, C storage, and a range of other marine biodiversity and habitat functions in these coastal systems.
There is a growing interest in how the management of ‘blue carbon’ sequestered by coastal wetlands can influence global greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets. A promising intervention is through restoring tidal exchange to impounded coastal wetlands for reduced methane (CH4) emissions. We monitored an impounded wetland’s GHG flux (CO2 and CH4) prior to and following tidal reinstatement. We found that biogeochemical responses varied across an elevation gradient. The low elevation zone experienced a greater increase in water level and an associated greater marine transition in the sediment microbial community (16 S rRNA) than the high elevation zone. The low elevation zone’s GHG emissions had a reduced sustained global warming potential of 264 g m−2 yr−1 CO2-e over 100 years, and it increased to 351 g m−2 yr−1 with the removal of extreme rain events. However, emission benefits were achieved through a reduction in CO2 emissions, not CH4emissions. Overall, the wetland shifted from a prior CH4 sink (−0.07 to −1.74 g C m−2 yr−1) to a variable sink or source depending on the elevation site and rainfall. This highlights the need to consider a wetland’s initial GHG emissions, elevation and future rainfall trends when assessing the efficacy of tidal reinstatement for GHG emission control.
Tidal marsh ecosystems are among earth's most efficient natural organic carbon (C) sinks and provide myriad ecosystem services. However, approximately half have been ‘reclaimed’ – i.e. converted to other land uses – potentially turning them into sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In this study, we applied C stock measurements and paleoanalytical techniques to sediments from reclaimed and intact tidal marshes in southeast Australia. We aimed to assess the impacts of reclamation on: 1) the magnitude of existing sediment C stocks; 2) ongoing C sequestration and storage; and 3) C quality. Differences in sediment horizon depths (indicated by Itrax-XRF scanning) and ages (indicated by lead-210 and radiocarbon dating) suggest a physical loss of sediments following reclamation, as well as slowing of sediment accumulation rates. Sediments at one meter depth were between ~2000 and ~5300 years older in reclaimed cores compared to intact marsh cores. We estimate a 70% loss of sediment C in reclaimed sites (equal to 73 Mg C ha−1), relative to stocks in intact tidal marshes during a comparable time period. Following reclamation, sediment C was characterized by coarse particulate organic matter with lower alkyl-o-alkyl ratios and higher amounts of aromatic C, suggesting a lower extent of decomposition and therefore lower likelihood of being incorporated into long-term C stocks compared to that of intact tidal marshes. We conclude that reclamation of tidal marshes can diminish C stocks that have accumulated over millennial time scales, and these losses may go undetected if additional analyses are not employed in conjunction with C stock estimates.
Coastal wetland losses in China are globally-relevant issues, as formerly sequestered soil organic carbon is released as CO2 into the atmosphere. Wetland losses also reduce the primary production by plants that would otherwise bury carbon in the future. More than 50% of these ecosystems have been lost globally over the last half century, with this number approaching 58% in China. The negotiation of international accords such as the Paris Climate Agreement rely on the accurate assessment of ecosystem-held carbon quantities. Our objective was to provide the first national scale survey of coastal wetland-based carbon in China. The average soil organic carbon stock (Mg SOC ha−1) across all three types of ecosystems was 236.91, with an average of 344.67 for mangroves, 175.14 for seagrass, and 134.37 for salt marshes. The SOC stock was greatest at 30–60 cm of depth in the case of mangroves, as opposed to 0–20 cm of depth for salt marshes. In terms of the carbon content of the standing aboveground and belowground biomass (Mg C ha−1), mangroves contained by far the most with an average of 253.98 and 83.96, respectively. Carbon burial rates, or the annual flux of SOC into the soil column (Mg C ha−1 yr−1), were 2.26 ± 0.39 for mangroves, 1.38 ± 0.38 for seagrass, and 2.18 ± 0.24 for salt marshes. Through our work, we found a total of 48.12–123.95 Tg of C in China's coastal wetlands (down to 1 m of soil column depth), with an annual burial of 0.84 Tg yr−1. We estimate the average annual emissions of CO2 to be on the order of 6.83 Tg CO2yr−1, due to ongoing and extensive wetland loss and conversion.
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the largest contiguous coral reef system in the world. Carbonate chemistry studies and flux quantification within the GBR have largely focused on reef calcification and dissolution, with relatively little work on shelf-scale CO2 dynamics. In this manuscript, we describe the shelf-scale seasonal variability in inorganic carbon and air-sea CO2 fluxes over the main seasons (wet summer, early dry and late dry seasons) in the GBR.
Our large-scale dataset reveals that despite spatial-temporal variations, the GBR as a whole is a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere, with calculated air–sea fluxes varying between −6.19 and 12.17 mmol m−2 d−1 (average ± standard error: 1.44 ± 0.15 mmol m−2 d−1), with the strongest release of CO2occurring during the wet season. The release of CO2 to the atmosphere is likely controlled by mixing of Coral Sea surface water, typically oversaturated in CO2, with the warm shelf waters of the GBR. This leads to oversaturation of the GBR system relative to the atmosphere and a consequent net CO2 release.
The Gulf of Mexico blue carbon habitats (mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes) form an important North American blue carbon hot spot. These habitats cover 2,161,446 ha and grow profusely in estuaries that occupy 38,000 km2 to store substantial sedimentary organic carbon of 480.48 Tg C. New investigations around GoM for Mexican mangroves, Louisiana salt marshes and seagrasses motivated our integration of buried organic carbon to elucidate a new estimate of GoM blue carbon stocks. Factors creating this include: large GoM watersheds enriching carbon slowly flowing through shallow estuarine habitats with long residence times; fewer SE Mexican hurricanes allowing enhanced carbon storage; mangrove carbon productivity enhanced by warm southern basin winter temperatures; large Preservation reserves amongst high anthropogenic development. The dominant total GoM mangrove blue carbon stock 196.88 Tg from total mangrove extent 650,482 ha is highlighted from new Mexican data. Mexican mangrove organic carbon stock is 112.74 Tg (1st sediment meter) plus USA 84.14 Tg. Mexican mangroves vary greatly in storage, total carbon depositional depths and in sediment age (to 3500 y). We report Mexican mangrove's conservative storage fraction for the normally-compared top meter, whereas the full storage depth estimates ranging above 366.78 Tg (high productivity in very deep sediment along the central Veracruz/Tabasco coast) are not reflected in our reported estimates. Seagrasses stock of 184.1 Tg C organic is derived from 972,327 ha areal extent (in 1st meter). The Louisiana marshes form the heart of GoM salt marsh carbon storage 99.5 Tg (in 1st meter), followed by lesser stocks in Florida, Texas, finally Mexico derived from salt marsh extent totaling 650,482 ha. Constraints on the partial estuarine fluxes given for this new data are discussed as well as widespread anthropogenic destruction of the GoM blue carbon. A new North American comparison of our GoM blue carbon stocks versus Atlantic coastal blue carbon stock estimates is presented.
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.
Carbon offset credits, and associated projects, are acclaimed to address economic, environmental and social issues simultaneously. However, critics argue that carbon offset mechanisms are ill equipped to assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development. Social standards now exist to provide robust methods for assessing the social and biodiversity performance of carbon offset projects and credible impact assessments to help ensure positive outcomes for local people and biodiversity. Following such a standard, and simultaneously applying the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach, we develop the Coastal Carbon Impacts Framework (CCIF) as a conceptual framework to document the potential positive and negative impacts of coastal carbon offset projects on local livelihoods. We apply the CCIF to four case studies and derive its main livelihood outcomes as well as describe potential long-term impacts. By using the capitals approach, the CCIF is able to dismantle the different impact areas into smaller entities. This allows a more detailed analysis on the positive and negative impacts a project has on communities – across the natural, financial, social, human, physical, cultural and political capital. While the case studies analysed show mainly positive outcomes, certainly no project is without risk of negatively impacting the community. The CCIF is however able to demonstrate potential social risk areas. If applied to additional coastal carbon offset projects, best practice documents, community engagement and the monitoring and evaluation process of such projects can be improved.
The restoration and protection of “blue carbon” ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes – has potential to offset greenhouse gas emissions and improve coastal livelihoods. However, realisation of this potential relies on global investment in restoration and protection, which in turn relies on appropriate funding mechanisms that are currently impeded by multiple constraints. Constraints include commercial considerations by private investors (including reliable estimates of financial returns, risk quantification and management, and supply chain impacts), regulatory and legal uncertainty (such as the complexity of property rights in coastal areas, policy coordination across jurisdictions, and stable policy consistent with the duration of blue carbon projects). There are, however, opportunities to improve on current practices, including better stakeholder engagement (including social license to operate, and knowledge transfer to promote best practices), and targeted use of public and philanthropic funding (to subsidise demonstration projects, reduce financial risk through collaterals, and promote low-profit but high co-benefit projects). In this paper, a strategy for the realisation of potential benefits through commercially viable and scientifically robust blue carbon initiatives is presented alongside insights and guidance for the policy, research, civil society, and private sectors to achieve these important long-term outcomes.