Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Destroyed Coastal Habitats Produce Significant Greenhouse Gas

Destruction of coastal habitats may release as much as 1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, 10 times higher than previously reported, according to a new Duke led study.

Published online this week in PLOS ONE, the analysis provides the most comprehensive estimate of global carbon emissions from the loss of these coastal habitats to date: 0.15 to 1.2 billion tons. It suggests there is a high value associated with keeping these coastal-marine ecosystems intact as the release of their stored carbon costs roughly $6-$42 billion annually.

"On the high end of our estimates, emissions are almost as much as the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the world's fifth-largest emitter, Japan," said Brian Murray, director for economic analysis at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. "This means we have previously ignored a source of greenhouse gas emissions that could rival the emissions of many developed nations."

This carbon, captured through biological processes and stored in the sediment below mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes, is called "blue carbon." When these wetlands are drained and destroyed, the sediment layers below begin to oxidize. Once this soil, which can be many feet deep, is exposed to air or ocean water it releases carbon dioxide over days or years.

"There's so little data out there on how much carbon might be released when these ecosystems are disturbed," said Oregon State University's Daniel Donato, co-lead author of the paper. "With this analysis we tried to reduce some of that uncertainty by identifying some 'bookends' that represent the lowest and highest probable emissions, given the information available."

The PLOS ONE study looked at the potentially massive amount of carbon tucked away from the atmosphere by the slow accretion, over hundreds to thousands of years, of soils beneath these habitats. Previous work in the area has focused only on the amount of carbon stored in these systems and not what happens when these systems are degraded or destroyed and the stored carbon is released.

"These coastal ecosystems are a tiny ribbon of land, only 6 percent of the land area covered by tropical forest, but the emissions from their destruction are nearly one-fifth of those attributed to deforestation worldwide," said Linwood Pendleton, the study's co-lead author and director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute. "One hectare, or roughly two acres of coastal marsh, can contain the same amount of carbon as 488 cars produce in a year. Comparatively, destroying a hectare of mangroves could produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as cutting down three to five hectares of tropical forest."

The critical role of these ecosystems for carbon sequestration has been overlooked, the study said. These coastal habitats could be protected and climate change combated if a system—much like what is being done to protect trees through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)—were implemented. Such a policy would assign credits to carbon stored in these habitats and provide economic incentive if they are left intact.

"Blue carbon ecosystems provide a plethora of benefits to humans: they support fisheries, buffer coasts from floods and storms, and filter coastal waters from pollutants," said Emily Pidgeon, senior director of Strategic Marine Initiatives at Conservation International and co-chair of the Blue Carbon Initiative. "Economic incentives to reverse these losses may help preserve these benefits and serve as a viable part of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and address climate change."

The work was funded by Linden Trust for Conservation and Roger and Victoria Sant. To review the paper, "Estimating Global ‘Blue Carbon' Emissions from Conversion and Degradation of Vegetated Coastal Ecosystems," visit

The study was led by Linwood Pendleton of Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Dan Donato of Oregon State University. Others from Duke's Nicholas Institute, Conservation International, ESA Phillip Williams & Associates, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Florida International University, Oregon State University, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Ocean Conservancy contributed as co-authors.

Photos Available:

CITATION: "Estimating Global ‘Blue Carbon' Emissions from Conversion and Degradation of Vegetated Coastal Ecosystems," Linwood Pendleton, Daniel C. Donato, Brian C. Murray, Stephen Crooks, W. Aaron Jenkins, Samantha Sifleet, Christopher Craft, James W. Fourqurean, J. Boone Kauffman, Nuria Marba, Patrick Megonigal, Emily Pidgeon, Dorothee Herr, David Gordon, Alexis Baldera. PLOS ONE, Sept. 4, 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043542.

Note to broadcast editors: Duke provides an on-campus satellite uplink facility for live or pre-recorded television interviews. We are also equipped with ISDN connectivity for radio interviews. Broadcast reporters should contact Scott Wells at (919) 660-1741 or James Todd (919) 681-8061 to arrange an interview.

Erin McKenzie | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Sea turtles face plastic pollution peril
09.10.2015 | University of Exeter

nachricht NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event
08.10.2015 | NOAA Headquarters

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Expanded power supply system offers greater flexibility and higher availability

13.10.2015 | Trade Fair News

Fraunhofer HHI and Red Bull Media House work together to develop new VLC technology applications

13.10.2015 | Communications Media

Siemens to build light rail vehicles for cities in the US

12.10.2015 | Press release

More VideoLinks >>>