Wetland Word: Blue Carbon

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Coastal ecosystems, like wetlands, may be smaller in size when compared to say, a forest, but they have the ability to sequester more carbon per unit area, making them an incredible climate change mitigation tool

Word: Blue Carbon  

Definition: Atmospheric carbon, particularly carbon dioxide, or CO2, can be sequestered by terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around the world. When that CO2 is absorbed and stored in coastal and oceanic ecosystems, it’s known as “blue carbon.”   

Etymyology: The modern use of “blue” is thought to come from the Old French bleu, which is of Germanic origin, the Old English blǣwen, and Old Norse blár. Early interpretations included “of the color of the clear sky.” The word “carbon” as we know it arose in the late 18th century, but the word comes from the Latin carbo or carbon- meaning coal or charcoal and the French carbone.  

Aerial view of a southeast Louisiana coastal marsh

Coastal wetlands are some of the most productive and valuable habitats in the world; however, in Louisiana, sea-level rise is causing coastal marsh habitat to convert to open water. USGS scientists are investigating the cause of wetland loss and establishing a baseline to accurately assess the effectiveness of restoration techniques implemented to help combat the loss of these ecosystems (Public domain.)

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: Many ecosystems around the world have the ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon. Coastal ecosystems, like wetlands, may be smaller in size when compared to say, a forest, but they have the ability to sequester more carbon per unit area, making them an incredible climate change mitigation tool. However, when coastal ecosystems are damaged or destroyed, the services they provide are diminished or even lost, including their ability to store atmospheric carbon. In fact, when habitats are degraded or lost, the sequestered carbon is released into the atmosphere and can then contribute to climate change.   

U.S. Geological Survey Use: The USGS and partners are involved in efforts to improve our understanding of coastal wetland carbon dynamics as well as how environmental changes and human activities might affect the ability of these ecosystems to sequester carbon. Scientists at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center are investigating impacts of climate and land use change on coastal wetlands to understand how these ecosystems will respond to future climate conditions and land management.  Using a large-scale, integrated approach, USGS scientists are studying how these factors affect the ecosystem’s resiliency and capacity for carbon storage, among other ecosystem services. Ultimately, this information will guide decision-making related to wetland restoration, coastal resilience, and carbon sequestration.