08 Jul 2021
08 Jul 2021
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Quantification of Blue Carbon in Salt Marshes of the Pacific Coast of Canada

Stephen G. Chastain1, Karen E. Kohfeld1,2, Marlow G. Pellatt1,3, Carolina Olid4, and Maija Gailis5 Stephen G. Chastain et al.
  • 1School of Resource & Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada V5A 1S6. Coast Salish Territories, xʷməθkʷəýəm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səĺilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)
  • 2School of Environmental Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada, V5A 1S6
  • 3Parks Canada, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation Directorate, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6B 6B4
  • 4Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Umeå, Sweden
  • 5Environment and Climate Change Canada, Climate Change Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Abstract. Tidal salt marshes are known to accumulate “blue carbon” at high rates relative to their surface area, which render these systems among the Earth’s most efficient carbon (C) sinks. However, the potential for tidal salt marshes to mitigate global warming remains poorly constrained because of the lack of representative sampling of tidal marshes from around the globe, inadequate areal extent estimations, and inappropriate dating methods for accurately estimating C accumulation rates. Here we provide the first estimates of organic C storage and accumulation rates in salt marshes along the Pacific Coast of Canada, within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a region currently underrepresented in global compilations. Within the context of other sites from the Pacific Coast of North America, these young Clayoquot Sound marshes have relatively low C stocks but are accumulating C at rates that are higher than the global average, with pronounced differences between high and low marsh habitats. The average C stock calculated during the past 30 years is 54 ± 5 Mg C ha−1 (mean ± standard error), which accounts for 81 % of the C accumulated to the base of the marsh peat layer (67 ± 9 Mg C ha−1). The total C stock is just under one-third of previous global estimates of salt marsh C stocks, likely due to the shallow depth and young age of the marsh. In contrast, the average C accumulation rate (CAR) (184 ± 50 g C m−2 yr−1 to the base of the peat layer) is higher than both CARs from salt marshes along the Pacific coast (112 ± 12 g C m−2 yr−1) and global estimates (91 ± 7 g C m−2 yr−1). This difference was even more pronounced when we considered individual marsh zones: CARs were significantly greater in high marsh (303 ± 45 g C m−2 yr−1) compared to the low marsh sediments (63 ± 6 g C m−2 yr−1), an observation unique to Clayoquot Sound among NE Pacific Coast marsh studies. We attribute low CARs in the low marsh zones to shallow-rooting vegetation, reduced terrestrial sediment inputs, negative relative sea level rise in the region, and enhanced erosional processes. Per-hectare, CARs in Clayoquot Sound marsh soils are approximately 2–7 times greater than C uptake rates based on net ecosystem productivity in Canadian boreal forests, which highlights their potential importance as C reservoirs and the need to consider their C accumulation capacity as a climate mitigation co-benefit when conserving for other salt marsh ecosystem services.

Stephen G. Chastain et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-157', Gail Chmura, 09 Aug 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Karen Kohfeld, 17 Dec 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2021-157 by Associate Editor', Nicolas Brüggemann, 10 Dec 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Karen Kohfeld, 14 Feb 2022

Stephen G. Chastain et al.

Stephen G. Chastain et al.


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Short summary
Salt marshes are thought to be important carbon sinks because of their ability to store carbon in their soils. We provide the first estimates of how much blue carbon is stored in salt marshes on the Pacific Coast of Canada. We find that the carbon stored in the marshes is low compared to other marshes around the world, likely because of their young age. Still, the high marshes take up carbon at rates faster than the global average, making them potentially important carbon sinks in the future.