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Shoreline erosion can transform freshwater wetlands from carbon-storage pools to carbon sources, according to a new study led by Illinois State Geological Survey researchers. Wave action and high water levels sweep away soils and plants at a rate much higher than nature can replace them. An accurate measurement of this carbon budget imbalance may help better prioritize coastal management efforts and improve global carbon-cycle models.
Freshwater wetlands account for as much as 95 percent of all wetlands—freshwater and marine—and have one of the highest carbon-storage rates of any environment, the researchers said.
Lot - Wetlands - Great - Lakes - Region
"There are a lot of coastal wetlands here in the Great Lakes region and they are recognized as important carbon-storage reservoirs," said Ethan Theuerkauf, an Illinois State Geological Survey researcher and study co-author. "But, we want to know how erosion and landscape change may alter that carbon-storage capacity. That has not been explored before."
The researchers developed a new model that works like those that assess the carbon budgets of coastal saltwater environments, but with modifications to account for the unique characteristics of freshwater ecosystems. The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Illinois - Beach - State - Shore - Lake
Illinois Beach State Park—located along the shore of Lake Michigan just north of the Chicago area—is a coastal environment that has remained mostly undisturbed by human encroachment. This makes it an ideal location for a study that focuses on landscape change over time, the researchers said.
Collecting a series of vertical soil cores allowed the team to determine the age and amount of carbon present within intact layers of soil, sand and vegetation. "We start by sampling near the shore and move inland, collecting from the different environments like beaches, dunes, wetlands and so on," said Katherine Braun, an ISGS researcher and lead author of the study....
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