Salt marshes and mangrove forests store disproportionally large amounts of organic carbon relative to their spatial extent due to abundant plant growth and slow decomposition of their water-soaked soils. The carbon stored belowground in coastal wetlands can remain for hundreds or even thousands of years in the form of organic-rich peat if the ecosystem remains stable. However, these coastal wetlands and their large stores of carbon are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, sea-level rise, and destruction for human development.
The primary goals of FWRI’s blue carbon studies are to quantify carbon stocks in coastal wetlands while also examining the effects of “habitat switching” (marsh-to-mangrove conversion) on coastal wetland carbon storage. This effort is being achieved through a combination of field sampling, remote sensing, and geospatial modeling of above- and below-ground carbon reservoirs. Thoroughly characterizing such a diverse and complex environment through field sampling and sediment coring is a complex task that is too expensive and time consuming to be carried out on a large geographic scale. Fortunately, several key drivers of coastal wetland carbon dynamics (e.g., vegetation type, canopy height, and photosynthetic activity) can be detected using remote sensing, allowing for landscape-scale data collection, analysis, and modeling.