Wetlands Drying Out and Releasing More Carbon into the Atmosphere

The world’s wetlands are drying out due to global warming and a better understanding on how to manage these eco-systems is urgently needed according to scientists.

Reducing rainfalls as well as general rising temperatures are increasing evaporation rates and thus releasing more carbon into the air. Wetlands only cover about 6% of the earth’s surface in terms of land but store an estimated 20% of the carbon.

More than 700 scientists are gathering at a major conference organised by the UN university and Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso to develop an action plan to protect the world’s wetlands.

Konrad Osterwalder, rector of the UN University, said that people in the past had viewed the habitats as a problem, which led to many being drained.

“Yet wetlands are essential to the planet’s health,” he explained. “With hindsight, the problems in reality have turned out to be the draining of wetlands and other ‘solutions’ we humans devised.”

The conference will hear that global warming could be compounded if the draining of wetlands continues and release more carbon into the atmosphere. It’s estimated a drained swamp will release 40 tonnes of carbon each year per hectare drained and that in the past 100 years 60% of wetlands have been destroyed to provide fields for agriculture use.

“Wetlands act as sponges and their role as sources, reservoirs and regulators of water is largely underappreciated,” Professor Wolfgang Junk from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Germany says.

“They also cleanse water of organic pollutants, prevent downstream flood inundations, protect river banks and seashores from erosion, recycle nutrients and capture sediment.”


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