Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
01 Feb 2005
 | 01 Feb 2005

Major role of marine vegetation on the oceanic carbon cycle

C. M. Duarte, J. J. Middelburg, and N. Caraco

Abstract. The carbon burial in vegetated sediments, ignored in past assessments of carbon burial in the ocean, was evaluated using a bottom-up approach derived from upscaling a compilation of published individual estimates of carbon burial in vegetated habitats (seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangrove forests) to the global level and a top-down approach derived from considerations of global sediment balance and a compilation of the organic carbon content of vegeatated sediments. Up-scaling of individual burial estimates values yielded a total carbon burial in vegetated habitats of 111 Tmol C y-1. The total burial in unvegetated sediments was estimated to be 126 Tg C y-1, resulting in a bottom-up estimate of total burial in the ocean of about 244 Tg C y-1, two-fold higher than estimates of oceanic carbon burial that presently enter global carbon budgets. The organic carbon concentrations in vegetated marine sediments exceeds by 2 to 10-fold those in shelf/deltaic sediments. Top-down recalculation of ocean sediment budgets to account for these, previously neglected, organic-rich sediments, yields a top-down carbon burial estimate of 216 Tg C y-1, with vegetated coastal habitats contributing about 50%. Even though vegetated carbon burial contributes about half of the total carbon burial in the ocean, burial represents a small fraction of the net production of these ecosystems, estimated at about 3388 Tg C y-1, suggesting that bulk of the benthic net ecosystem production must support excess respiration in other compartments, such as unvegetated sediments and the coastal pelagic compartment. The total excess organic carbon available to be exported to the ocean is estimated at between 1126 to 3534 Tg C y-1, the bulk of which must be respired in the open ocean. Widespread loss of vegetated coastal habitats must have reduced carbon burial in the ocean by about 30 Tg C y-1, identifying the destruction of these ecosystems as an important loss of CO2 sink capacity in the biosphere.

Final-revised paper