Monday, January 30, 2012

CIFOR - Information brief on Indonesian wetlands

January 2012/by iids

CIFOR Examines Role of Indonesian Wetlands in Addressing Climate Change

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has released an information brief, titled "Addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation in tropical wetland ecosystems of Indonesia," which calls for research to address information and communication gaps related to land use and carbon dynamics.

The brief notes that coastal mangroves are important for both mitigation and adaptation, and calls for ecosystem-based or watershed-wide approaches for communities to manage wetlands.

CIFOR is a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). [Publication: Addressing Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation inTropical Wetland Ecosystems of Indonesia]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not All Wetlands Are Created Equal

Not All Wetlands Are Created Equal

24 January 2012/ by Rachel Nuwer/ Green Blog

 A mangrove restoration along along Bahia Salinas in southwestern Puerto Rico. It can take decades for restored ecosystems to recover the bio-geochemical functions lost during ecosystem degradation. Bill Hubick

To many, it’s a familiar scenario: a strip mall suddenly pops up in what was once a desolate quagmire or boggy boondock.

But people are coming to realize that these seemingly wasted plots where land meets water provide a valuable ecological service. In addition to nurturing biodiversity, wetlands purify water, produce fish, store carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming, and protect shorelines from floods, storm surges and erosion.

Since the early 20th century, development has claimed over half the wetlands in North America, Europe, Australia and China. To repair the damage from those construction binges and regain the benefits of wetlands, restoration has become a booming business.

Yet new research calls into question whether manmade versions can ever compensate for wetlands buried beneath parking lots and subdivisions. In an article published on Tuesday in PLoS Biology, scientists write that restoration efforts often fall short of returning wetlands to their former biological complexity and functioning.

“In traditional restoration, people repair hydrology, put in some plants, and after a few years say the wetlands are good,” said David Moreno-Mateos, a wetland ecologist at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve at Stanford University and the lead author of the paper. “But if you look at what’s really going on down there, you see the processes are not recovering.”

“One of the results from this study is that we need to undertake more specific restoration measures focused on recovering processes, not just nice, beautiful wetlands with ducks,” said Dr. Moreno-Mateos, who conducted the research at the University of California, Berkleley.

Before the 1960s, many people perceived wetlands as dank places to be drained or avoided, Dr. Moreno-Mateos said. But in the last 20 years, the governments of the United States Canada, and Mexico have poured over $70 billion into restoring more than seven million acres of wetlands.

Some developers deploy the strategy of promising to create or restore wetlands in one location in exchange for getting permission to bulldoze wetlands in another location. In theory, this sounds fair, but the results fall short, Dr. Moreno-Mateos said.

To quantify the success of restoration projects, the researchers performed a meta-analysis of 621 restored and created wetland sites around the world. Most of the sites were in the United States, and some restoration plots dated back around 100 years. They compared the sites with 556 natural wetlands that served as reference points.

The researchers found that hydrology seemed to recover immediately after restoration, but results varied in areas like the recovery of animals, plants and nutrients. Even after 100 years of restoration, the wetlands recovered only 77 percent of their original flora and fauna, on average.

Within five years animals like birds and bats returned, as did flying insects like midges. Other macroinvertebrates like water fleas took a bit longer, around 5 to 10 years, and these communities usually did not reach their original levels of richness or abundance.

Plants were even slower to recover. On average, they took 30 years to return but still remained less biodiverse and abundant up to 100 years after restoration.

The plant lag may be related to recovering carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus storage. After 50 years, carbon levels were still below reference levels, and it took at least 30 years for nitrogen to return to normal. All in all, restored wetlands regained an average of 74 percent of their biogeochemical components by comparison with the reference sites.

“When we lose wetlands we’re losing something we won’t recover for years,” Dr. Moreno-Mateos said. “When people develop that huge shopping mall, it will take centuries to restore the functions we had before.”

Some wetlands did recover faster than others, depending on hydrology, size and climate. The more water flowing through a site, the more quickly it bounces back to reference values. Larger sites also fared better than smaller plots, and the warmer the temperature, the more rapid the recovery. “In some warm climates, things go fast, but cold climates take forever,” Dr. Moreno-Mateos said.

On average, however, the researchers describe current restoration practices as “slow and incomplete.” Dr. Moreno-Mateos plans to investigate the connection between the slow recovery of carbon storage and plants, and to seek a specific method that will expedite their restoration.

Although the results are not surprising for scientists, he said, this is the first time a study has placed the problem into a global context.

“Developers are kind of powerful people,” he said, “but carbon is really important for global warming, so I think it’s going to be controversial.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Restored wetlands rarely equal conditions of original wetlands

 Restored wetlands like this pond converted from agricultural use in Aragon, Spain, may look natural, but a new study shows that it can take hundreds of years for restored wetlands to accumulate the plant assemblages and carbon resources of a natural, undamaged wetland. Credit: David Moreno-Mateos/UC Berkeley
Study shows restored wetlands rarely equal condition of original wetlands

24 January 2012/ by Robert Sanders/ Media Relations

BERKELEY —Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared over the past century. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland.

“Once you degrade a wetland, it doesn’t recover its normal assemblage of plants or its rich stores of organic soil carbon, which both affect natural cycles of water and nutrients, for many years,” said David Moreno-Mateos, a University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow. “Even after 100 years, the restored wetland is still different from what was there before, and it may never recover.”

Moreno-Mateos’s analysis calls into question a common mitigation strategy exploited by land developers: create a new wetland to replace a wetland that will be destroyed and the land put to other uses. At a time of accelerated climate change caused by increased carbon entering the atmosphere, carbon storage in wetlands is increasingly important, he said.

“Wetlands accumulate a lot of carbon, so when you dry up a wetland for agricultural use or to build houses, you are just pouring this carbon into the atmosphere,” he said. “If we keep degrading or destroying wetlands, for example through the use of mitigation banks, it is going to take centuries to recover the carbon we are losing.”

A mangrove forest damaged during the construction of an oil pipeline in the floodplain of the Grijalva river in Tabasco, Mexico. Even after restoration, this wetland could take centuries to recover. Credit: David Moreno-Mateos/UC Berkeley

The study showed that wetlands tend to recover most slowly if they are in cold regions, if they are small – less than 100 contiguous hectares, or 250 acres, in area – or if they are disconnected from the ebb and flood of tides or river flows.

“These context dependencies aren’t necessarily surprising, but this paper quantifies them in ways that could guide decisions about restoration, or about whether to damage wetlands in the first place,” said coauthor Mary Power, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.

Moreno-Mateos, Power and their colleagues will publish their analysis in the Jan. 24 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology.

Wetlands provide many societal benefits, Moreno-Mateos noted, such as biodiversity conservation, fish production, water purification, erosion control and carbon storage.

He found, however, that restored wetlands contained about 23 percent less carbon than untouched wetlands, while the variety of native plants was 26 percent lower, on average, after 50 to 100 years of restoration. While restored wetlands may look superficially similar – and the animal and insect populations may be similar, too – the plants take much longer to return to normal and establish the carbon resources in the soil that make for a healthy ecosystem.

Moreno-Mateos noted that numerous studies have shown that specific wetlands recover slowly, but his meta-analysis “might be a proof that this is happening in most wetlands.”

“To prevent this, preserve the wetland, don’t degrade the wetland,” he said.

Moreno-Mateos, who obtained his Ph.D. while studying wetland restoration in Spain, conducted a meta-analysis of 124 wetland studies monitoring work at 621 wetlands around the world and comparing them with natural wetlands. Nearly 80 percent were in the United States and some were restored more than 100 years ago, reflecting of a long-standing American interest in restoration and a common belief that it’s possible to essentially recreate destroyed wetlands. Half of all wetlands in North America, Europe, China and Australia were lost during the 20th century, he said. 

Natural processes have inundated this mangrove forest with sand. Photo by David Moreno-Mateos/UC Berkeley.

Though Moreno-Mateos found that, on average, restored wetlands are 25 percent less productive than natural wetlands, there was much variation. For example, wetlands in boreal and cold temperate forests tend to recover more slowly than do warm wetlands. One review of wetland restoration projects in New York state, for example, found that “after 55 years, barely 50 percent of the organic matter had accumulated on average in all these wetlands” compared to what was there before, he said.

“Current thinking holds that many ecosystems just reach an alternative state that is different, and you never will recover the original,” he said.

In future studies, he will explore whether the slower carbon accumulation is due to a slow recovery of the native plant community or invasion by non-native plants.

Coauthors with Moreno-Mateos and Power are Francisco A. Comin of the Department of Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Zaragoza, Spain; and Roxana Yockteng of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. Moreno-Mateos recently accepted a position as the restoration fellow at Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

The work was supported by the Spanish Ministry for Innovation and Science, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics of the U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.

The Blue Carbon Strategy

The blue carbon strategy
23 January 2012 /by Mico Tatalovic/ Cosmos Online

Mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes possess a huge carbon storage capacity, which scientists say can be used to mitigate climate change. Known as blue carbon, this resource could one day be quantified and sold on international carbon trading markets.

Together with seagrass beds and salt marshes, mangrove forests such as the one pictured account for 70% of the ocean's carbon storage capacity.

Mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes cover only around 0.5% of the seabed, but account for some 70% of the ocean's carbon storage capacity.

These three marine environments soak up and store carbon dioxide in their biomass and sediments, where they keep it locked up for centuries. Together with the carbon held in the rest of the ocean, this is known as 'blue carbon'.

Blue carbon is also the name of a new strategic approach to make use of the large carbon capture and storage potential of coastal ecosystems. If this carbon could be quantified and sold on international carbon trading markets, this could help fund preservation and restoration projects, which would also help capture more carbon and ease the effects of climate change.

Apart from sequestering carbon quicker than the same area of rainforests can, these three ecosystems provide other 'eco-services' which are especially valuable for vulnerable coastal communities in developing countries. These include food and energy, protecting shorelines from flood and tsunamis, filtering water, as well as recreation and tourism.

But aquaculture, agricultural development and pollution are now responsible for loss of these ecosystems at a rate of up to four times that of rainforest loss. Around 20% of mangroves and more than 50% of seagrass ecosystems have been lost in the last 25 years, and salt marshes are being lost at a rate 1 to 2% per year.

Because of the huge amount of carbon stored in mangroves, the global emissions from mangrove deforestation account for around 10% of all emissions from deforestation, despite making up just 0.7% of tropical forest area.

"Some of the coastal ecosystems are 50 or even up to 75 times more efficient than a same type of area of land in terms of sequestering carbon, and that's a wonderful opportunity for us, but it's one we're squandering," says Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the Global Marine and Polar Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based in Switzerland. "We're doing a lot silly things in the ocean, we're doing land reclamation projects, we're doing very destructive things in the marine environment and if we stop those and actually start restoring, then we'll at least help our carbon footprint."

Last month, a new research initiative was launched at the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to understand how the blue carbon strategy would work. This will feed into the negotiations for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 in Brazil later this year.

According to the organisations driving it, Conservation International, IUCN and UNESCO, this is the first global initiative to mitigate climate change through the conservation and restoration of coastal marine ecosystems. "Blue carbon is an opportunity or us, first to take into account what we as humans are doing to the environment, [and] an opportunity for us to be able to factor those resources and in turn use this as a platform for solutions," Rolph Payet, special adviser to the president of the Republic of Seychelles, an island country in the Indian Ocean, and president of University of Seychelles, told the summit.

Blue carbon aims to link eco-services, including but not exclusively carbon storage, with market-based payment mechanisms to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, conserve biodiversity, and ensure sustainable delivery of those ecosystem services to people.

But one of the key problems with linking economics of blue carbon trading with marine conservation is a lack of comparable baseline data on blue carbon. This 'data deficiency' is a key barrier to effective planning and decision-making in the coastal and marine environment, according to a white paper prepared for the summit. It also hampers the inclusion of these environments into international conventions and financing mechanisms that exist for land habitats, such as forests through the U.N.'s Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD).
"There's a big gap right now with basic data," says Sylvia Earle, founder and chairman of the National Geographic Society in the U.S. "You can't put a finger on it [the problem] until you know what you've got, but that's no excuse to ignore it, and we had been ignoring it."

Lundin agrees, "We're just getting started in the accounting process, in trying to understand the science behind it and, from then on, trying to find policy options."

There are no internationally accepted methodologies for assessing carbon sequestration by salt marshes, sea grasses and 'below-ground' parts of mangroves. And there is still uncertainty about the exact sequestration rates for the three ecosystems.

"The key is knowing. It's identifying problems. You can't really solve a problem until you know you've got one," Earle says. And according to her, the whole of the ocean is a large part of the environmental data gap problem, which was, together with sharing existing data, the focus of the summit in Abu Dhabi.

And the problem is especially acute in developing countries. In his message to the summit, the prime minister of Kiribati, an island nation located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, H.E. Beretitenti Anote Tong said, "For us in small, developing countries and indeed for most of the Pacific island countries ... environmental information is a scarce commodity. Even where such information does exist, it is often of limited value because of its poor quality."

So, the working group on blue carbon, brought together by the summit, will start developing new scientific methodologies and start filling the data gaps. This will include a US$4.5 million Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded research project due to start late this year, and new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines on greenhouse gas inventories, to be launched in 2013, that would include blue carbon.

It will also help bring together existing initiatives and pilot projects currently taking place in the Asia Pacific region, West Africa and Arabian Peninsula. One goal is to develop an interactive global map of blue carbon projects to build a network of practitioners and experts and to gather the lessons learned.

Another is to use citizen science to help map habitats and later provide data openly online. "We need more practical examples, we need to link science and knowledge with the practical application," says Lundin.

The blue carbon initiative, which has its origins in two reports published in 2009, already claims a success in getting the issue into the public domain and raising awareness of the importance of blue carbon. If all goes well, in the next three to five years they hope to have examples of new data being used in practical decision-making, demonstrate the value of coastal systems to carbon markets, identify a global set of priority areas for conservation, and develop a policy framework easing payment for ecosystem services.

And while for many in the West, blue carbon may be an opportunity to offset their carbon emissions, for small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean it may be a matter of survival. "Our ocean is the source of our livelihood," Tong said. "For us, sustainable management of our ocean is matter of survival for our Pacific peoples."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sex promotes seagrass which acts as carbon sink

Sex promotes seagrass which acts as carbon sink

17 January 2012/ Zeenews Online 

 Sydney: Sex promotes greater growth of seagrass, a vegetation that doubles as a huge carbon sink and shelters marine species, reveals a study.

Seagrass meadows grew predominately via vegetative growth or cloning, using rhizomes that spread under the seabed, then send out roots and shoots, says a recent research at the University of Western Australia Oceans Institute.

But the researchers found that seagrass also relied a great deal on sexual reproduction involving male and female flowers, pollens, seeds and seedlings.

Professor Gary Kendrick, who led the Oceans Institute study, said healthy seagrass populations were extremely important for coastal stability and carbon sequestration, according to a university statement.

Last year, Jim Fourqurean, a professor also from the Oceans Institute, showed that extensive seagrass meadows in Shark Bay, on Western Australian coast, act as a massive carbon sink which stores more than $8 (Australian) billion worth of carbon dioxide, the journal Bioscience reported.

Kendrick said seagrass also formed an important habitat for many fish species, including Western Australia's juvenile western rock lobster -- the most valuable single-species fishery in Australia -- and were a source of fish protein for many coastal communities in South East Asia and Africa.

"Clearly, the process of dispersing (seeds) over these hundreds of kilometres is an important mechanism for keeping connectivity occurring between populations of the one species," Kendrick said.

Australian and US researchers examined the key role of seed dispersal in maintaining seagrass populations. They used existing DNA molecular markers to infer genetic connectivity of seagrass species.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blue Carbon is key to fighting climate change

Blue carbon is key to fighting climate change

16 January 2012/ by Struan Stevenson/ Scotsman Online

WE have long known the importance of our forests and peat bogs in capturing and storing CO2.

These “green carbon” systems are the world’s natural carbon capture and storage system and a crucial factor in climate change mitigation, with forests annually absorbing around 15 per cent of global CO2 emissions from transport and factories.

Less well known, but no less crucial, is the role played by our “blue carbon” marine ecosystems. Every day, we add about 22 million metric tonnes of CO2 to our oceans, meaning blue carbon sinks sequester around 55 per cent of the biological carbon captured in the world. As global CO2 emissions increase, particularly among emerging economies, impacting weather patterns and affecting food production and livelihoods, blue carbon capture is a resource that we cannot afford to squander.

An international conference kicks off in Brussels this week looking at how we can put in place the building blocks for a thriving global blue carbon system. It will look at practical ways in which we can reduce the rate of marine and coastal ecosystem degradation. That means carbon credits for CO2 sequestered in blue carbon sinks must be traded, just as they are with green carbon, while a global blue carbon fund to pay for the protection and enhancement of remaining marine ecosystems must be established.

Energy efficiency in marine transport, including fisheries, aquaculture and maritime tourism sectors is also significant. And we need to encourage environmentally sound, ocean-based energy production, exploiting natural materials like algae and seaweed. Industrial schemes to cover coastal areas and ocean floors with wave, tidal and offshore wind farms, must be subject to rigorous impact assessments, to ensure that they do not further damage blue carbon ecosystems.

Blue carbon lies at the very heart of the global warming debate. Over the past 70 years we have lost around 20 per cent of the habitats that play this vital role in CO2 reduction. That trend has to be reversed. Our survival depends on it.

• Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and President of the European Parliament’s Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development Intergroup.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blue Carbon: The Role of Oceans (and Overfishing) in Climate Change

Interesting article on the ocean's understudied role in climate change. See video at end of story which highlights research on overfising disrupting oceanic carbon sink:

"...The Patagonian shelf absorbs about 17 million metric tons of carbon per year, equivalent to all the carbon contained in 100 thousand hectares of rain forest. The Patagonian shelf break is one of the most important fisheries regions on earth. Today most experiments agree that marine ecosystems are badly overfished and that at the present pace no fisheries are sustainable. A decrease in fish population could eventually affect zooplankton and phytoplankton communities thereby disrupted by (sic) the ability of the oceans to capture CO2. Such alterations of the marine ecosystem would be analogous to the impact of land use change on the continental carbon budget. These changes are still poorly understood and may bring with them unexpected surprises. Monitoring ocean productivity, carbon budgets and fisheries is important to understand options and interventions in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions."

Blue Carbon: The Role of Oceans in Climate Change

By Stephen Lacey on Dec 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

Oceans make up 70% of the earth’s surface and hold 90% of natural carbon. So why do they only make up a small portion of the research on the global impact of carbon emissions?

The role of “blue carbon” in climate change is getting more interest from the international community. With a growing body of research exploring how an increase in atmospheric carbon is impacting the chemistry and biology of ocean ecosystems — and thus influencing climate change — people are starting to pay more attention.

However, it’s still not a well-explored concept outside the scientific community. At the COP climate talks in Durban, for example, there is endless talk about atmospheric carbon and about how to control terrestrial carbon emissions through deforestation programs like REDD+. But there are still very few mentions of oceanic carbon.

“Hopefully, by exposing the science to higher level decision makers, we will bridge a gap of communication for that necessary understanding” of the role that oceans play in climate change, said Alberto Piola, an oceanographer with the Naval Hydrographic Service in Argentina, speaking at a side event on Blue Carbon at COP 17 this week.

We can look at Blue Carbon in two ways. The first is the climate change impact of releasing natural carbon from the oceans through the destruction of ecosystems. Most research in this area is focused on near-shore ecosystems like mangroves and sea grasses. The second is the impact of burning fossil fuels on ocean ecosystems by adding geologically-trapped CO2 to the carbon cycle.

Considering the immense shift already underway in the oceans, it’s amazing that the concept hasn’t gotten more attention in the international negotiations on addressing climate change.

In pre-industrial times, the ocean was a source of CO2, and the atmosphere was a sink. But the release of staggering amounts of geologic carbon has made the oceans a net sink.

We’ve reversed the natural carbon cycle in about 200 years.

How much carbon does it take to do that? Consider this: We burn 9.1 petagrams of fossil fuels per year. That’s the equivalent of a coal train wrapped around the world 63 times – or about 2.5 million kilometers. And that train is only growing.

“Now you get a sense of how much CO2 we add to the atmosphere,” said Chris Sabine, director of the Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who outlined the numbers in a presentation.

“This pool of carbon should not be a natural part of the cycle on the time scales that we’re looking at. The terrestrial sinks and oceans are trying to take that up,” said Sabine.

Every day, we add 22 million metric tons of CO2 into the oceans. But our ability to accurately gauge the impact of those additions is still evolving.

“The models are very divergent at this point. We still need more data,” said Sabine. “We do know that resulting changes in chemistry and warming are expected to significantly impact ecosystems.”

The trends are certainly alarming. Alongside the dramatic reversal of the carbon cycle, we’ve seen a commensurate increase in the acidity of the oceans, greater fluctuations in temperatures, and an increase in oxygen depleted waters – a phenomenon known as hypoxia.

In more acidic conditions, organisms cannot use calcium carbonate for growing shells. Researchers have called acidification “a ticking time bomb” for ocean ecosystems and fisheries. And the combination of increased levels of CO2 and decreasing O2 levels can affect the temperature tolerance curve in organisms, making it harder for them to survive. The cascading impacts of these changes could be immense — but it’s still difficult to predict exactly how ocean ecosystems will respond, said Pedro Monteiro, the principal oceanographer with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, talking to Climate Progress.

In order to better predict how CO2 levels will influence oceans, Monteiro and his team are using O2 as a proxy. Because data sets for O2 are much longer than for CO2, researchers can examine the impact that fluxes in carbon and oxygen uptake have historically had on the oceans.

Until recently, research on blue carbon has been focused on how near-shore ecosystems can sequester carbon. But there’s increasing international coordination on projects looking at the role of the deep ocean. Monteiro calls the CO2 fluxes from the deep ocean “game changers” in how they influence oceanic chemistry and biology, and potentially release massive amounts of greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere.

“The exchanges are orders of magnitude larger,” explained Monteiro.”We’re trying to recognize all the different pools. What we’re seeing now is a shift from relatively small-scale regional studies to international research. And no single country can do them.”

Below is a film played at COP 17 on research in Argentina being conducted by Alberto Piola. The film was produced by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research:


For additional information see IAI's press release for COP 17):

IAI Research at UNFCCC

The IAI hosted a side-event during COP-17 in Durban, South Africa on “Blue carbon research: biological, physical, chemical processes in oceanic carbon sinks and sources”. Based on IAI research in the South Atlantic, we discussed how ocean circulation affects blue carbon: the links between biological carbon sequestration, chemical absorption, physical transport and possible re-release to the atmosphere; and what this implies for carbon management options

  • Dr. Alberto Piola, Dr. Edmo Campos (CRN2076)

  • Dr. Pedro Monteiro (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – CSIR)/ESSP

The associated press release "Is continental shelf production mitigating climate change?" can be found here:

"...Overfishing disrupts the marine ecosystem’s food web and can affect the capture of carbon through phytoplankton photosynthesis..."