Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
Biogeosciences, 8, 987–993, 2011
Biogeosciences, 8, 987–993, 2011

Research article 21 Apr 2011

Research article | 21 Apr 2011

Enhanced decomposition offsets enhanced productivity and soil carbon accumulation in coastal wetlands responding to climate change

M. L. Kirwan1,2 and L. K. Blum2 M. L. Kirwan and L. K. Blum
  • 1US Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD, 20708, USA
  • 2Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville VA, 22904, USA

Abstract. Coastal wetlands are responsible for about half of all carbon burial in oceans, and their persistence as a valuable ecosystem depends largely on the ability to accumulate organic material at rates equivalent to relative sea level rise. Recent work suggests that elevated CO2 and temperature warming will increase organic matter productivity and the ability of marshes to survive sea level rise. However, we find in a series of preliminary experiments that organic decomposition rates increase by about 20% per degree of warming. Our measured temperature sensitivity is similar to studies from terrestrial systems, three times as high as the response of salt marsh productivity to temperature warming, and greater than the productivity response associated with elevated CO2 in C3 marsh plants. Although the experiments were simple and of short duration, they suggest that enhanced CO2 and warmer temperatures could actually make marshes less resilient to sea level rise, and tend to promote a release of soil carbon. Simple projections indicate that elevated temperatures will increase rates of sea level rise more than any acceleration in organic matter accumulation, suggesting the possibility of a positive feedback between climate, sea level rise, and carbon emissions in coastal environments.

Final-revised paper