While carbon is an essential element to life on Earth, carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere have significantly increased within the last two centuries due to anthropogenic activities such as deforestation and the use of fossil fuels or deforestation. This rise in emissions not only has a negative impact on coastal and marine organisms but has also expedited the rate at which the earth is currently experiencing climate change.
Interestingly, some environments known as wet carbon ecosystems have properties that allow them to sequester carbon, taking it from the atmosphere and storing it instead. While these systems’ characteristics help to mitigate climate change impacts, there are still many knowledge gaps that need to be addressed, and two ECU researchers are on the case. Drs. David Lagomasino, who leads the CSI’s Coasts & Oceans Observing Lab, and Sean Charles, a postdoctoral scholar at CSI, are co-authors on a recent publication in the journal Environmental Research Letters entitled, “A review of carbon monitoring in wet carbon systems using remote sensing”.
So, what are wet carbon systems? Wet carbon systems include a broad grouping of water-associated environments that store high quantities of carbon. They include all fresh, brackish, saline, and wetland ecosystems. Wet carbon systems often have overlapping characteristics as they pertain to restoration, preservation, and research. Understanding these systems as they relate to measuring carbon dioxide and methane emissions has become an increasingly popular task of scientists and remote sensing specialists. Specifically, they seek to provide data on carbon monitoring across local, regional, and global scales. Carbon cycle monitoring is an important part of working to achieve emissions reductions and other sustainability-related goals related.
When asked about the motivation for investigating wet carbon systems, Charles shared, “our team sought to expand on ‘blue carbon’ environments- wetlands, marshes, mangroves, and seagrass- to include other wet ecosystems that also store large amounts of carbon.”
As part of the newly published review for the NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) program, Lagomasino and Charles reviewed nine separate wet carbon systems in order to analyze methods for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of the entire carbon cycle. To do this, their colleagues and they separated the nine wet carbon systems into three categories: coastal wetlands, inland wetlands, and ocean and shelves. A review of the literature on this topic revealed that the monitoring of wetlands using remote sensing has increased significantly over the last decade. So, what does that mean for stakeholders who hope to implement the use of this type of carbon monitoring in the coming years?
Stakeholders that might be interested in carbon monitoring range from cities to non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and other governing bodies. However, the inclusion of wet carbon systems in this assessment varies. The authors argue that while field-based methods of monitoring are sometimes difficult for wet carbon systems, remote sensing provides a promising prospect for MRV in these often inaccessible areas. In other words, although there is a need for an increase in wet carbon monitoring research, the authors believe that remote sensing research can help bridge gaps and has the potential to reduce uncertainty around these carbon estimates.
“[Wet carbon] ecosystems remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it, but quantifying and identifying changes in storage is essential for dealing with climate change,” shares Charles. “Remote sensing allows us to pinpoint changes across huge areas, even the entire world, over time.”
As Lagomasino put it, “Similar to how one monitors the money in their bank account, we are monitoring the amount of money, or carbon, going in and out of the system. This helps us identify where we might be losing, or gaining, that we which we may not know about.”
Following a model that has been implemented in oceanic carbon modeling, the researchers believe carbon mapping can be achieved across wet carbon systems as well. Lagomasino and Charles hope that the suggestions and recommendations the paper presents will help accelerate wet carbon monitoring and the role is it playing in major stakeholder decision-making.
“Combining remote sensing and field research can help scientists identify important carbon sinks to protect and promote their carbon sequestration, and identify vulnerable ecosystems to avoid the release of vast amounts of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere,” says Charles. “We hope our work can help mitigate climate change and protect and restore valuable ecosystems and the communities that rely on them.”
When nature faces intense storms, it may be better to adapt and recover than try to resist.
According to a new study comparing the impacts of hurricanes, resilience is a more realistic management strategy for coastal areas. If disturbance events were not increasing in frequency and magnitude, resistance might be the best strategy, said study co-author John Kominoski, an ecologist in the Institute of Environment and lead principal investigator for the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program at FIU. That’s because disturbances would be infrequent and the probability of being impacted would be relatively low. But in times of greater storm frequency and intensity from accelerated climate change, there simply might not be enough time for resistance to take hold for some species.
“Our understanding of resilience — how can we expect nature to return to prior conditions is changing,” Kominoski said. “The ability to go with the flow confers more resilience but things that are anchored like trees, they are more resistant and can exhibit that resistance at a cost. In a general sense, resilience would allow organisms to adapt to changing conditions and bounce back but some organisms don’t.”
That’s why the idea of trying to enhance both resistance and resilience in coastal ecosystems may be an impossible task, according to Christopher Patrick, lead author of the study and researcher at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
“If it takes 25 years for one tree species to grow large enough to resist the average hurricane, but hurricanes now start impacting an area every 20 years, it’s probably a waste of effort to try to cultivate it,” Patrick said. “The best restoration strategy depends on the frequency and intensity of disturbance events both now and in the future.”
All told, the researchers used pre- and post-storm monitoring surveys to analyze patterns of ecosystem resistance and resilience from 26 Northern Hemisphere storms. These made landfall between 1985 and 2018 in states from Texas to North Carolina, as well as in Puerto Rico and Taiwan. They gauged storm characteristics and impacts via total rainfall, maximum rainfall rate, and wind speed; then grouped their study areas into four ecosystems (freshwater, saltwater, wetland, and terrestrial) and five “response categories,” for a grand total of 4,138 time series datasets. The response categories documented post-storm changes not only in the distribution and abundance of living things — populations of mobile animals such as fishes, sedentary animals such as oysters, and vascular plants such as mangroves — but also in the ecosystem’s biogeochemistry (e.g., salinity, nutrients) and hydrography (e.g., depth and shoreline position).
“In the face of a changing climate and shifts in extreme weather events like hurricanes, it’s critical that we make good decisions about how to protect and restore ecosystems,” said Mike Heithaus, executive dean of FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education and a marine scientist who contributed data to the study on predator movements during the storms. “The insights we were able to gain from working across so many locations with so many collaborators and leveraging multiple long-term studies are critical for helping ensure the long-term health of coastal systems.”
Kominoski said data from long-term ecological research enables researchers to detect how the impacts of catastrophic events can leave an indelible mark on sensitive ecosystems, such as Florida’s Everglades.
The study, published in Science Advances, revealed a repeated pattern of trade-offs between resistance and resilience across ecological categories. The authors note these patterns are likely the outcomes of evolutionary adaptation and conform to ecological-disturbance theories, suggesting consistent rules govern ecosystem susceptibility to tropical cyclones.
The research team comprises 23 scientists from 11 states, Puerto Rico, and Taiwan. FIU contributors included Heithaus, Kominoski, FIU Institute of Environment Director Todd Crowl, Assistant Professors Jeremy Kiszka and Rolando Santos, as well as technician Sara Wilson and Assistant Teaching Professor Elizabeth Whitman. FIU alumni Bradley Strickland, now a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Institute of Marine Science, J. Aaron Hogan, now a postdoctoral researcher at University of Florida, and David Lagomasino, an assistant professor at East Carolina University, were also among the contributors.
Their study is linked to a Research Coordination Network formally known as the Hurricane Ecosystem Response Synthesis Network funded by the National Science Foundation to synthesize knowledge concerning ecosystem responses to hurricanes. Joining Kominoski and Patrick as co-authors and members of the network’s leadership team are Bill McDowell, professor at the University of New Hampshire, and Beth Stauffer, associate professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Story from FIU News