Mangroves, wetlands, and seagrasses store vast amounts of "blue carbon." In fact, mangroves store more carbon per area than other tropical forests. Mangroves and wetlands do not only sequester carbon but also provide important protection from waves and storms to low-lying coastlines. Protection and investment in these coastal ecosystems has received a fair amount of attention this year during side events at COP21. Matthew Costa is a PhD student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies the natural history, biogeochemistry, and microbial ecology of organic sediments in Baja California Sur's mangrove forests for his PhD. He joins us today to explain the importance of mangroves for carbon sequestration and describes some of the realities of working in these ecosystems. Further biographical information is found at the end of the entry. For further exploration of mangrove carbon storage potential in the Gulf of California, check out dataMares from Dr. Octavio Aburto's research group at Scripps. A special thanks to Matthew for the article and to Dr. Aburto for use of images.
"Excruciatingly slow going through one quagmire after another, daily inundation with fluctuating pressures, and a thousand buzzing distractions that continually hinder progress—no, I’m not talking about an international policy summit, but rather an expedition into a mangrove forest. These coastal wetlands have long had the reputation of being putrid and impassible wastelands, and I guess that many would not be too excited about stepping into a smelly, mosquito-infested swamp. Yet, when I visit the mangroves of northwest Mexico to do my field research, I know that I am visiting places of special value. Mangrove forests are rich with biodiversity, support fisheries, protect coastlines, and filter run-off. What’s more, they hide buried treasure… organic carbon.
The key to wetlands’ rich stores of carbon lie in the fundamental chemistry of life. Plants use the energy of the sun to combine carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients to build organic matter. Carbohydrates, proteins, and all stuff of life is ultimately generated as a result of this “primary production.” This process of storing solar energy in the chemical bonds between carbon atoms, removed from the air as carbon dioxide and stored in the molecules of living things, takes on a special character in wetlands. Here, the building blocks are abundant: carbon dioxide is found in the air everywhere, water and sunlight abound, and nutrients, carried downstream by rivers or in by the tide, are quickly taken up by the plants. As a result, capture of carbon dioxide and production of organic matter proceed relatively unchecked, making wetlands among the most productive ecosystems in the world.
This year, Scripps PhD students attending COP21 in Paris will be blogging our experiences for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read Yassir Eddebbar's take on if the stars are aligned for a successful treaty at this year's climate summit here.
This year, 7 PhD students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are attending the 21st UNFCCC COP, which is being held in Paris, France at the Le Bourget area. We will be working closely with professors, staff, and the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the COP to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and the role the ocean plays in mitigating climate change. We will also be working closely with several partners including the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Ocean and Climate Platform to raise ocean awareness at the Hot, Sour, and Breathless booth in the Blue Zone (official COP area) and the Red Zone (a public space adjacent to the Blue Zone). Follow along with us through our blogs and photos. We will be blogging about our experiences here and for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and also sharing our experiences through photographs and on Twitter. Additional information about the involvement of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at COP21 can be found at the Scripps COP21 website.
Get to know all the attendees in our group this year:
Mariela Brooks is a PhD student in Marine Chemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research is focused on the global carbon cycle and carbon storage in the ocean. She measures seawater carbon dioxide, its isotopes, and related values to investigate biological productivity and changing ocean biogeochemistry. She is also interested in learning more about policy and how to best integrate the science behind climate change into mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Yassir Eddebbar is a PhD candidate in Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. His research interests include climate and biogeochemical dynamics and their interactions, focusing on the influence of anthropogenic ocean warming and natural climate variability on the oceanic oxygen content. By participating in UN climate events, Yassir hopes to communicate and explore the implications of his research by engaging policymakers and the general public on the important role of the world's ocean in global climate change.
Natalya Gallo is a PhD student in Biological Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a fellow of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. She studies how oxygen gradients on the continental margins influence the composition and function of the demersal fish community and is interested in how ocean deoxygenation will affect demersal fish communities and fisheries worldwide. This will be her third COP and she is continuing to learn about the role scientists can play in informing policy while working to raise awareness about ocean climate change impacts.
Kaitlyn Lowder is a PhD student in Marine Biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She studies how crustaceans will respond to future decreased pH conditions--known as ocean acidification--and how these responses may affect their ability to defend against predators. Problems stemming from global carbon emissions, such as ocean acidification, can only be reduced through legislation and public action, so Kaitlyn aims to bring her research on local species to local community members and fishery managers. She is excited to connect with global leaders to share her knowledge and learn more about international policy-making.
Kirk Sato is a PhD candidate studying how climate change factors in the ocean affect deep-dwelling species. While his research focus is on marine ecology, Kirk comes to his first COP in Paris with a broad interest in how ecosystems and societies are being affected by and responding to climate change. Kirk will act as a Scripps photographer inside COP, and with accreditation thanks to the country of Chile, he will have access to various negotiation rooms and COP events. He will communicate his observations via the SIO social media outlets, as well as a new media project, ParisAgreement.org, which will provide updates on the progress of the multifaceted text.
Matt Siegfried is a postdoctoral scholar at the Institution for Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. A former NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, Matt studies the motion of ice streams and glaciers in Antarctica, combining ground- and satellite-based data sets to understand how processes beneath ice streams and glaciers affect ice flow. He arrives in Paris for his first COP experience fresh off his fifth research expedition to Antarctica, excited to discuss the past and future changes of the Earth's ice sheets and glaciers.
Weijie Wang is a PhD student in Climate Science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. She studies how African dust emission and Sahel rainfall vary on decadal time scales using satellite observations and climate models. Prior to joining Scripps, she worked at NASA Langley Research Center on the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy Team. This will be her first COP and she is excited to communicate with scientists and politicians worldwide about climate change as well as to learn what can be done to effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change on regional and global scales.
At this UNFCCC meeting, I attended the executive secretary briefing to observer organizations, which I found out about through the group RINGO. A small departure from the topic, but a useful fact for anyone else attending future meetings is to know about RINGOs (Research and Independent NGOs), BINGOs (Business and Industry), and YOUNGOs (youth constituency). These are constituency groups, of which there are a total of 9 within the UNFCCC process, and RINGO is the only group that doesn’t advocate as a group for any part of the process. These groups often organize useful meetings (such as this one) that provide greater access and insight into the process. I certainly wish I had known about them earlier.
At this session, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, offered to answer anyone’s questions in a small group environment, which gave me the opportunity to ask her an ocean-focused question. Specifically, I was interested in how the global agreement on climate change (ie. Paris Agreement) could appropriately include the ocean given the importance of the ocean in mitigating climate change, the high economic value of ocean assets (recently estimated to be $24 trillion), and the fact that oceans are incurring major negative impacts from climate change.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figureres gives an executive briefing to the research and independent NGOs