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Scientifically speaking, sequestration refers to the capture and storage of an element, like carbon, in the environment.   

Word: Sequestration 

Definition: You might sequester, or withdraw, yourself from social gatherings (hashtag 2020), or a jury might be sequestered away during a trial. Scientifically speaking, sequestration refers to the capture and storage of an element, like carbon, in the environment.   

Etymology: “Sequester” comes from the Latin sequester, meaning “trustee” and the Anglo-French sequestrer/late Latin sequestrare which means “commit for safekeeping.” The suffix “-ation” comes from the French -ation or Latin -ation, and means “denoting an action related to it.” 

Dead trees in a tidal marsh
A ghost forest in tidal freshwater forested wetlands of the Sampit River, South Carolina.Photo taken June 17, 2015 by Dr. William Conner, Clemson University (Courtesy: Dr. William Conner, Clemson University)

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: 

Carbon sequestration typically refers to the net capture and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide, or  (CO2,) in ecosystems, like coastal wetlands. In contrast, emission is the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 emissions can come from natural sources like organisms, including humans, that release CO2 when they respire, and human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels. A source is a reservoir that releases more carbon than it stores, while a sink is a reservoir that stores more carbon than it releases. Sequestration of carbon in sinks reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which helps mitigate global climate change.  

 U.S. Geological Survey Use: 

Wetlands play an important role in the global carbon cycle. These productive landscapes are highly efficient at accumulating soil organic matter and can function as important carbon sinks, even though they account for less than 10% of the earth’s land surface area. Although almost half of all coastal wetlands in the United States are located along the northern Gulf of Mexico, these wetlands are rapidly disappearing, and with them goes the potential for carbon storage. Scientists at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center study wetland ecosystems to better understand their capacity for long-term carbon sequestration, how these ecosystems might respond to natural and human-induced changes, and how such changes might affect coastal wetlands’ ability to sequester carbon in the future to help inform restoration and management plans in the Mississippi River Delta and Southeast U.S. 

USGS Welands Science

Upper estuarine wetlands along major rivers of the southeastern United States often transition from non-tidal/tidal freshwater forested wetlands to low salinity tidal marshes. For over 20 years, USGS and partners have been studying soil and growth processes among different upper estuarine wetlands of the southeast to better understand the processes responsible for preserving carbon storage capacity as these changes occur, and how river management might facilitate greater carbon sequestration in the future. 

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