A pair of researchers from West Virginia University has developed a new model to reliably predict the greenhouse gas fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane in coastal wetlands under rising temperatures and changing environments.

Omar Abdul-Aziz, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Khandker S. Ishtiaq, a postdoctoral fellow, have developed the model, which was published in a recent edition of the American Geophysical Union’s “Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeoscience.”

Coastal wetlands play an important role in mitigating the effects of GHGs by efficiently removing atmospheric carbon. However, climate change mitigation benefits have to be achieved through conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands.

The developed model, which takes sunlight, soil temperature and salinity into account, is a novel and first-of-its-kind empirical tool that can be used for estimating and predicting GHG fluxes and carbon storage using a minimal amount of observational data. Presented in a simple spreadsheet, it can be applied to explore various climate change scenarios, which will aid the development of appropriate GHG offset protocols for setting monitoring and verification guidelines for coastal wetland restoration and maintenance projects.

“Modeling and predicting wetland GHG and carbon storage has been an extremely challenging undertaking for decades,” said Abdul-Aziz. “Coastal wetlands provide numerous benefits, including attenuation of storm surges and critical habitats for many endangered species. Our paper, for the first time, provides a relatively simple, science-based and user-friendly solution to a very complex problem that hampers the restoration and management of coastal wetlands.”

Using the model, the researchers demonstrated a potentially higher rate of atmospheric carbon removal by the coastal wetlands in New England in 2050 and 2080, compared to the current rate.

“Our findings also demonstrated that the model is potentially applicable to wetlands along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts of the U.S. and beyond (e.g., Canada, China and Japan),” Abdul-Aziz said. “The new model would help the coastal stakeholders (e.g., reserve managers, practitioners and policymakers) to formulate guidelines for restoration and maintenance of the coastal wetlands under the rising temperature and changing environment.”

The research has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Joining Abdul-Aziz and Ishtiaq on the project team are collaborators from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Rhode Island and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Originally by Mary C. Dillon for WVU Today