Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sperm Whales Act as Carbon Sink


New estimates suggest sperm whales' feeding habits help take in carbon.

Sperm whales in the Southern Ocean deserve credit for their fine work pumping iron for climate change, researchers say.

These whales have been falsely accused of breathing out enough carbon dioxide to contribute to the greenhouse gas build-up causing climate change, says Trish J. Lavery of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Of course the whales breathe, but earlier calculations overlooked the potential for whales to offset their emissions by introducing extra iron into the upper zone of water, Lavery said October 13 at the Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Quebec City, Canada. The extra iron that whales bring up from their deep feeding encourages plankton growth. That growth traps carbon, much as human-run iron-enrichment experiments in the ocean might, Lavery and her colleagues contend.

According to the team's calculations, sperm whales in the Southern Ocean should rank as carbon neutral at least. The animals may even be capturing a net 5 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere per year, Lavery says.

Some 210,000 of the world's sperm whales swim around the Southern Ocean during a year, Lavery says. Whale numbers inspire a lot of debate, so she averaged results of several estimates.

The first analysis of whales' effect on greenhouse gases determined that warm-blooded residents -- with whales as the dominant force -- might be respiring 25 percent of the carbon fixed in the Southern Ocean, she says. Later estimates have revised their share downward, and the most recent calculation puts their contribution at 0.3 percent. That's not huge compared to global output, but it's still 17 million tons of carbon a year.

Sperm whales, however, feed by diving for squid in the cold depths of the Southern Ocean. This zone normally acts as deep storage for nutrients, Lavery says. So anything the whales bring up effectively introduces something new to the upper waters.

Skimpy levels of iron in the Southern Ocean limit growth of the floating meadows of plankton there, Lavery says. This limitation has inspired human experiments in adding iron to trigger a big plankton bloom. A burst of iron-fed organisms would draw in carbon dioxide and then trap some of it as a portion of the bloom dies and sinks into deep cold storage.

Using numbers from studies of feeding and nutrition, Lavery and her colleagues calculate that each whale brings up about 10 grams of iron a day from the depths and then defecates it at the surface. The beauty of this sperm whale output is that it takes the form of drifting liquid plumes that can feed life in the upper ocean, Lavery says. She notes that experiments with iron have struggled with iron fertilizers that clump and sink before upper-water plankton can eat all of the goodies. Yet, she says, those experiments document measurable carbon trapping with even less iron fertilizer than sperm whales contribute.

Lavery points out that her calculations can show sperm whales as either a net carbon sink or as carbon-neutral depending on which numbers go into the model. Finding the exact values will take more research, she says, but she wants to call attention to an overlooked mechanism.

Asked if he's ready to believe sperm whales could be carbon neutral, Ari Friedlaender of the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C. says, "Of course!"

He adds that is he is now thinking about the flip side of whales and climate change: what impact climate change will have on them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Proposal: Carbon funding to protect oceans


Marine organisms take up between three and seven percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Thus, projects to protect this "blue carbon" capacity should rank on a par with forest conservation, UN body suggests.

Morten Andersen 16/10/2009 13:15

Projects that protect and enhance the ability of marine ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide should be allowed to receive carbon credits just like projects to conserve rainforests. The proposal stems from a new report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

While rainforests are generally accepted as huge sinks for carbon, it is less known that projects to restore marine ecosystems may provide considerable climate protection – more than half that projected from reducing rainforest deforestation, the report points out.

"It’s a resource that can help us achieve the goals and targets governments are negotiating at the moment (…) it’s a relatively simple and cheap proposition to invest in managing these areas," Emily Corcoran, one of the report’s authors, tells Business Day.

According to the report, between two and seven percent of the oceans’ capacity for carbon storage is lost yearly, mainly due to pollution and clearance of mangroves to make way for ports and other types of coastal development.

"We already know that marine ecosystems are trillion-dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defence, fisheries and water purification services. Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change," Achim Steiner, head of the UNEP, tells Reuters.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seagrass Recovery joins the United Nations in calling attention to the need to restore critical Seagrass habitats in the World's oceans


Today, Seagrass Recovery joins the United Nations in calling attention to the need to restore critical Seagrass habitats in the coastal zone of the World's oceans while creating jobs, reversing the decline of the fisheries and combating climate change.

TAMPA, FL - October 15, 2009 - A report released October 14, 2009 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stresses the importance of urgent action to maintain and restore marine ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes (blue carbon sinks) as the key to combating climate change. With the announcement, a call to action is being made for the restoration of the world's blue forests and blue carbon sinks to combat climate change and sea level rise. Florida based Seagrass Recovery has been successfully restoring seagrass meadows since 1996 and stands ready to meet this expected increase in the need for restoration of this important resource.

The report, “Blue Carbon: The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon” was produced by three United Nations agencies and leading scientists. It found the ocean’s vegetative habitats (seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes) cover less than 1% of the seabed and equal less than .05% of the biomass on land but store a comparable amount of carbon per year, ranking them among the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet, and unlike carbon that may be locked away for decades or centuries on land, blue carbon stored in the oceans remain for millennia.
Unfortunately, over 30% of seagrass meadows have been lost since the 1940s and the rate is accelerating according to the report, sponsored by UNEP, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Seven percent of these “blue carbon sinks” are being lost annually – seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

According to the report, “If more action is not taken to sustain these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within two decades”, thus the loss of all of the benefits these habitats provide, not just in battling climate change.

The report’s findings detail that the key element to combating climate change is the restoration of degraded seagrass meadows. Seagrass Recovery has spent the last 14 years developing innovative techniques and patented technologies to replant and restore damaged seagrass areas. The success of these methods have been scientifically evaluated and documented by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jeff Beggins, President and CEO of Seagrass Recovery stated that, "We applaud this exciting realization that restoration projects focused on Seagrass habitats in our coastal zone no longer should happen, but must happen. Seagrass Recovery recognizes that through creating jobs in our coastal communities and restoring these valuable blue carbon sinks, we look forward to playing a significant role in the reversal of the issues facing our planet as we combat climate change and sea level rise while making our coastline more resilient."

It is understood that Seagrasses provide countless benefits to our planet such as being the nursery of the ocean, providing habitat and sustenance for 70% of marine life, its direct correlation to water quality and providing protection for inshore coral reef ecosystems as well as the protection of our coastlines from coastal erosion. With the additional value add of these ecosystems being presented by this research in the fight against climate change and sea level rise, Seagrass and other coastal habitats will certainly benefit from the increased attention and awareness of the newly published finding with regards to the ocean's role in permanently sequestering carbon. This opportunity may create the ability to fund large scale restoration projects in the coastal zone focused on seagrasses, salt marshes and mangroves for the value these ecosystems present in worldwide carbon trading markets.

In Florida alone, according to information published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 1995, over 175,000 acres of prop scarring exist in the seagrass meadows found in the coastal waters of Florida. Information such as this provides a real world example of the degradation mentioned by the UN and the opportunities it presents to the Global economy. For example, a simple restoration of 100 acres will put over 1,000 coastal residents to work. Through the implementation of successful restoration techniques, such as Seagrass Recovery’s sediment tubes, to restore seagrass injuries sites, we can respond to this call to immediate action presented by this UN report to focus restoration opportunities on reversing the losses of these critical habitats through the restoration of the degraded habitats as well as the creation of new ecosystems.

"In these challenging economic times, we have the ability to place literally thousands of job seekers to work in long term sustainable careers while ensuring the future health of coastal habitats for a multitude of reasons, this report is very exciting." says Beggins.

The full report, “Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon” can be accessed at www.grida.no/publications/rr/blue-carbon/

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Healthy Oceans New Key to Combating Climate Change


Seagrasses to Salt Marshes Among the Most Cost Effective Carbon Capture and Storage Systems on the Planet

But Urgent Action Needed to Maintain and Restore 'Blue Carbon' Sinks Warns Three UN Agencies

Cape Town, Nairobi, Rome, Paris, 14 October 2009 - A 'Blue Carbon' fund able to invest in the maintenance and rehabilitation of key marine ecosystems should be considered by governments keen to combat climate change.

A new Rapid Response Report released today estimates that carbon emissions-equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector-are being captured and stored by marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses.

A combination of reducing deforestation on land, allied to restoring the coverage and health of these marine ecosystems could deliver up to 25% of the emissions reductions needed to avoid 'dangerous' climate change.

But the report, produced by three United Nations agencies and leading scientists and launched during National Marine Month in South Africa, warns that far from maintaining and enhancing these natural carbon sinks humanity is damaging and degrading them at an accelerating rate.

It estimates that up to seven percent of these 'blue carbon sinks' are being lost annually, or seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

"If more action is not taken to sustain these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within two decades," says the report Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon launched by the United Nations Environment Programe (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and water purification services-now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change."

Marine plant life holds the secret to preventing global warming


A seagrass bed

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds, above, cover less than 1 per cent of the world's seabed, but lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor

Life in the ocean has the potential to help to prevent global warming, according to a report published today.

Marine plant life sucks 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, but most of the plankton responsible never reaches the seabed to become a permanent carbon store.

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are a different matter. Although together they cover less than 1 per cent of the world’s seabed, they lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor. They are estimated to store 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year — nearly half of global transport emissions — making them one of the most intense carbon sinks on Earth.

Their capacity to absorb the emissions is under threat, however: the habitats are being lost at a rate of up to 7 per cent a year, up to 15 times faster than the tropical rainforests. A third have already been lost.

Halting their destruction could be one of the easiest ways of reducing future emissions, says report, Blue Carbon, a UN collaboration.

With 50 per cent of the world’s population living within 65 miles of the sea, human pressures on nearshore waters are powerful. Since the 1940s, parts of Asia have lost up to 90 per cent of their mangrove forests, robbing both spawning fish and local people of sanctuary from storms.

The salt marshes near estuaries and deltas have suffered a similar fate as they are drained to make room for development. Rich in animal life, they harbour a huge biomass of carbon-fixing vegetation. Seagrass beds often raise the level of the seabed by up to three metres as they bury mats of dead grass but turbid water is threatening their access to sunlight.

“We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion-dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defence, fisheries and water purification services. Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change,” said Achin Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General.

The potential contribution of blue carbon sinks has been ignored up to now, says the report, which was a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Unesco. Accurate figures for the extent of these habitats are hard to obtain, and may be more than twice the lower estimates used in the report.

“The carbon burial capacity of marine vegetated habitats is phenomenal, 180 times greater than the average burial rate in the open ocean,” say the authors. As a result they lock away between 50 and 70 per cent of the organic carbon in the ocean.

To protect them the authors suggest that a Blue Carbon Fund be launched to help developing nations to protect the habitats. Oceanic carbon sinks should also be traded in the same fashion as terrestrial forests, they say. Together with the UN’s scheme to reduce deforestation, they could deliver up to 25 per cent of emission reductions needed to keep global warming below 2C (3.5F).

Christian Nellemann, the editor of the report said:“On current trends they [ecosystems] may be all largely lost within a couple of decades.”

Oceans seen as new front to fight climate change


Oceans seen as new front to fight climate change

A construction site at south Coogee beach in Sydney is shown in this August 12, 2009 file photo.

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Preventing the destruction of marine life, from plankton to seagrasses and mangrove forests, could help offset between 3 to 7 percent of current fossil fuel emissions, a U.N. environment report said on Wednesday.

Wed Oct 14, 2009 9:44am EDT

The "Blue Carbon" report found that of all the biological carbon captured in the world, slightly more than half is captured by marine-living organisms.

"Healthy oceans (are a) new key to combating climate change," said the report, which highlighted how marine organisms such as seagrasses naturally absorb greenhouse gases.

Life in seas and estuaries captured and stored up to 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of almost half of the emissions from the entire global transport system, it said.

"We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and water purification services," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme.

"Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change," he said, launching the report in Cape Town.

The report proposed that governments consider a "blue carbon" fund to help protect marine life.

It estimated that between 2 and 7 percent of the "blue carbon" stores were being lost every year due to factors such as pollution and clearance of mangroves for coastal development.

The proposed fund, which would be used to protect and manage coastal and marine ecosystems, could eventually allow the future use of carbon credits similar to that proposed for tropical forests in U.N. climate negotiations.

Steiner did not provide a target figure for the fund, which he said was unlikely to be adopted at a December 7-18 U.N. meeting in Copenhagen to agree a pact to fight global warming.

Tropical Wetlands Hold More Carbon Than Temperate Marshes


ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2008) — In one of the first comparisons of its kind, researchers have demonstrated that wetlands in tropical areas are able to absorb and hold onto about 80 percent more carbon than can wetlands in temperate zones.

The scientists extracted soil cores from wetlands in Costa Rica and in Ohio and analyzed the contents of the sediment from the past 40 years. Based on their analysis, they estimated that the tropical wetland accumulated a little over 1 ton of carbon per acre per year, and the temperate wetland accumulated .6 tons of carbon per acre per year.

The temperate Ohio wetland in the study covers almost 140 acres, meaning it sequesters 80 tons of carbon per year. The tropical wetland covers nearly 290 acres and stores 300 tons of carbon each year.

“Finding out how much carbon has accumulated over a specific time period gives us an indication of the average rate of carbon sequestration, telling us how valuable each wetland is as a carbon sink,” said William Mitsch, senior author of the study and an environment and natural resources professor at Ohio State University. “We already know wetlands are outstanding coastal protection systems, and yet wetlands continue to be destroyed around the planet. Showing that wetlands are gigantic carbon sequestration machines might end up being the most convincing reason yet to preserve them.”

Mitsch, also director of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park at Ohio State, conducted the study with graduate student Blanca Bernal, who presented a poster on this research Wednesday (10/8) at the Geological Society of America joint meeting in Houston.

Often called the “kidneys” of the environment, wetlands act as buffer zones between land and waterways. In addition to absorbing carbon and holding onto it for years, wetlands filter out chemicals in water that runs off from farm fields, roads, parking lots and other surfaces.

But wetlands are also a natural source of methane, and bacteria present during the decay of organic material cause wetlands to release this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

“A big issue in wetland science is how carbon sequestration balances against the release of greenhouse gases,” Mitsch said. “Methane is a more effective greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide in terms of how much radiation it absorbs, but it also oxidizes in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide does not degrade – it is an end product. If you take that into account, I think wetlands are very effective systems for sequestering carbon.”

Mitsch and Bernal collected soil cores from Old Woman Creek, a freshwater wetland near Lake Erie in northern Ohio, and from a similar flow-through wetland located at EARTH University in northeastern Costa Rica. Old Woman Creek had accumulated between 16 and 18 centimeters (about 7 inches) of sediment since 1964, while the Costa Rican wetland accumulated between 30 and 38 centimeters (12 to 15 inches) of sediment during the same time period.

To determine the age of the sediments, the researchers used radiometric dating with cesium-137. Above-ground nuclear testing in the mid-20th century left behind the cesium-137 compound as a marker in sediments throughout the world. Based on how deep cesium-137 was detected in the soil cores, the researchers were able to date sediment from each wetland that has built up since 1964, the year the concentration of the compound reached its peak.

The tropical wetland sediment was more densely packed with carbon. Its average carbon density was 110 grams of carbon per kilogram of soil (almost 1.8 ounces for every pound of soil), while the Ohio wetland’s average carbon density was less than half that, 53 grams of carbon per kilogram of soil (.86 ounces per pound).

Mitsch and Bernal plan to conduct additional comparisons of carbon sequestration in wetlands from different climates to look for patterns that might inform policymakers who are exploring carbon storage options across the world as a strategy to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a Payne Grant from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Climate Change, Global Security & Natural Ocean Carbon Solutions

Climate change is a global security issue, and one that is expected to worsen.

This threat could be reduced in coastal and island nations by gearing climate change funds with natural ocean carbon solutions
, providing financial resources to support the long-term stabilization of vulnerable states.



Obama: Climate change is a security issue

“Not only scientists and environmental activists call for action on climate change, but also military leaders understand that our common security hangs in the balance,” said President Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," has been seen as a means of boosting international climate talks.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, President Obama stressed the importance of confronting climate change:

"There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement – all of which will fuel more conflict for decades," and then he drew attention to the question of security in the climate problem:

"It is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action – it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance."

According to AFP, the Group of 77 seized the opportunity to urge Barack Obama to steer the US back into the Kyoto Protocol and to release 200 billion US dollars to fight climate change:

"That's the challenge that President Obama needs to rise to. This is what we expect from him as a Nobel Prize winner," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping of Sudan, representing 130 countries in the G-77 bloc and China. (Photo: Scanpix/Reuters)