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Scientists narrow in on blue carbon’s role in climate change

Thursday, 05 September 2019

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In new research published in Nature Communications, an international group of scientists has sounded the alarm on how we protect coastal ecosystems to mitigate the impact of climate change.

The group of 36 leading marine scientists outlined the most important challenges facing ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes.

“The issues we have raised will help scientists and research institutions focus their efforts on the most pressing areas of inquiry in the study of blue carbon,” said co-author Dr Oscar Serrano, an ARC DECRA Fellow in Edith Cowan University’s (ECU’s) School of Science.

“This is an important step towards ensuring governments implement blue carbon strategies that are informed by the best science available and help mitigate climate change.”

“Blue carbon science growth has been exponential, but there are still plenty of knowledge gaps that are precluding the implementation of blue carbon projects in the policy space,” he said.

The role of blue carbon

Blue carbon refers to atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed and sequestered by vegetated coastal ecosystems, as opposed to ‘green carbon’ absorbed by trees and other terrestrial plant life.

These ecosystems are responsible for storing more than 50 per cent of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the world’s oceans, despite covering just two per cent of its area.

It’s believed blue carbon ecosystems could sequester carbon dioxide at a rate 40 times faster than tropical rainforests – often dubbed the lungs of the earth.

Just like rainforests, if these marine ecosystems are damaged or destroyed the stored carbon dioxide would be released back into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

The race to offset climate change

Associate Professor Peter Macreadie from Deakin University, lead author of the work, said the group of scientists writing in Nature Communications were most concerned with maximising the role blue carbon can play in offsetting climate change.

“Our team of experts have identified what we see as the most important gaps for continued research into blue carbon,” he said.

“There’s a large focus on climate change because of the importance these blue carbon ecosystems can play in its mitigation.”

Among the scientists’ key focus areas were:

  • The effect of climate change on carbon accumulation.
  • Improving the measurement of blue carbon sequestration and ecosystems around the world.
  • Identifying the best ways to manage and repair blue carbon ecosystems to enhance carbon dioxide sequestration.

‘The Future of Blue Carbon Science’ was published in Nature Communications and is available from the journal's webpage.

The team behind the paper represent institutions from Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Greece, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Portugal.

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