Supersinks for Carbon

J. Boone Kauffman studies the carbon storage capacity of mangroves around the globe.

By Lee Sherman Gellatly

AS THE UNITED NATIONS GEARS UP for its global climate change conference in Paris in November, the “blue carbon” message is gaining ever-more traction in the debate. Keeping greenhouse gases sequestered in the tangled roots and soggy detritus of mangrove forests could be vital to keeping the planet cool enough for habitation, scientists say.

“High rates of tree and plant growth, coupled with anaerobic, waterlogged soils that slow decomposition, result in large, long-term carbon storage,” Oregon State University researcher J. Boone Kauffman and colleagues explain in a new study published in Nature Climate Change. (See “Blue Carbon,” Terra, Fall 2014.)

Arguing that mangroves, especially those in the vast archipelago of Indonesia, are the world’s richest supersinks for carbon dioxide, Kauffman and an international team of researchers make a case for preserving these vital ecosystems. “Preventing mangrove loss would be an effective climate change adaptation strategy,” the researchers say. “Conservation of carbon-rich mangroves … should be a high-priority component of strategies to mitigate climate change.