Science - 21/December/2018

Seagrass beats rainforests as carbon sink

Pollution is causing seagrass growing on our ocean floors to retreat. Scientists believe the habitat could be an important carbon sink and are working to restore it

Tropical rainforests are the carbon sink most often cited as a natural way of capturing and storing carbon dioxide. But rainforests are only the fifth most efficient ecosystem in the carbon storage cycle, new research reveals. Growing seagrass on ocean floors comes in second place among the most efficient ways of reabsorbing carbon.

The quantity of carbon dioxide (CO2) already in the atmosphere and the amount that continues to be emitted has led the European Commission, the EU executive body, to conclude that removing and storing it is the only way to keep global warming well below 2°C. In the Commission’s long-term vision for a climate neutral economy by 2050, adopted in November 2018, carbon capture is included among seven strategic actions in A Clean Planet for All. Natural carbon sinks and active carbon capture and storage (CCS) are two ways to the same end.

The slower the decomposition process for vegetation, the longer it acts as a sink. Where seagrass grows on the seafloor, micro-organisms that break down dead creatures and plants work slowly because of a lack of oxygen, says Marianne Holmer from the University of Southern Denmark. The decomposition process is much faster in a forest where there is more oxygen and animals to eat the leaves and other debris. “Tree leaves fall to the ground and decompose almost immediately. Within a year they are gone and part of the [carbon] cycle again,” says Holmer. When a tree falls in the rainforest, the carbon dioxide is also released back to the atmosphere, she adds. ...

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