Whether you agree or disagree with the premise that man can and should impact global warming, it has become a reality of the world economy. From carbon credits to ambitious alternative energy adoption plans, the world's nations are banding together to try to stop climate change -- a tall order.
One of the hottest ideas in climate science is the concept of carbon sequestration. As children, many of us shoveled the contents of a messy room under our beds, when cleaning was demanded. Ironically this universal thought could be applied to atmospheric carbon to remove it from the atmosphere and stop global warming.
What can be used to fix carbon into the ground and keep it there? Ideas vary wildly. Some prefer manmade setups such as carbon fixing plants, or even using sand to sink carbon into the oceans as carbonic acid. However, one of the most popular thoughts is to fix carbon into the earth in the form of plant life.
By growing dense plant life in areas that previously contained only lighter growth, carbon can be fixed into the ground. Assuming the dense growth is sustained, this method of sinking has the potential to be semi-permanent.
Along these lines researchers with the US Geological Survey and UC Davis are testing out wetlands as a potential carbon sink. The project will take place in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California. The project will aim to rebuild the areas wetlands. In the process it will recreate the rich peat soils that store far more carbon than the area currently holds.
Thanks to a $12.3M USD grant from the California Department of Water Resources, the project is restoring 400 acres of land to swamp. California's DWR was inspired to fund the project based on initial tests in the Delta which indicated that the project could bury up to 25 metric tons of CO2 each year per acre.
Interestingly the project is its own worst critic in many respects. While the participants are encouraged by the strong initial tests, they're approaching the concept of swamped based sequestration wary of several pitfalls. First, they fear the wetlands could potentially release nitrous oxide and methane, far more effective greenhouse gases. They say this could negate or even worsen warming impact.
Secondly, the wetlands could yield methylmercury, a neurotoxin to mammals. Methylmercury, abundant in many freshwater lakes can become a potent toxin when concentrated in lake fish. The risk largely depends on whether people eat fish from the areas surrounding the swamps.
While the project leaders are approaching the project cautiously, they are optimistic. Roger Fujii, Bay-Delta program chief for the USGS California Water Science Center states, "This project is an investment in California's future that could reap multiple benefits over several decades - for California, the nation and the world."