Cooler Planet

As society considers ways to reduce the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, more attention is being paid to how natural ecosystems such as forests and wetlands are able to capture and store carbon. Wetland ecosystems are particularly durable and sustainable carbon “sinks.”

A handful of rich organic soil, or “muck,” from a wetland.

Wetland plants and soils both play an important role in sequestering carbon. The vegetation temporarily stores carbon dioxide and, when the plants die, the soils provide long-term storage for that carbon. Extensive peat deposits throughout the world underlying many current and former wetlands demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of wetlands in storing carbon.

A 2007 study by scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago used TWI’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge to investigate how much carbon is sequestered by restored wetlands. The site had been drained for farming for nearly a century before restoration began in 2001. The scientists observed that soil in the newly restored wetlands already had increased concentrations of carbon compared to Midwestern agricultural soils, and they estimated that by 2040 the wetlands would be storing nearly ten times more due to accumulated vegetation and soils.

TWI’s projects have shown that even very degraded sites can be restored to high-quality wetlands. Once reclaimed, these lost wetlands can again become rich carbon sinks.

Click here to learn more about the science behind slowing climate change through land restoration