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Swamps, wetlands key in fight against climate change: study

Swamps and wetlands could be 50 times more effective than rain forests in storing carbon, an Australian scientist researching the topic said Monday.

Researchers at Victoria’s Deakin University found swamps bank up to one-third of the carbon found in terrestrial soils, yet only occupy 4 percent of the planet’s land surface.

They are confident that wetlands will be a huge carbon sink that was missing in previous global carbon budgets.

Senior lecturer in freshwater ecology, Rebecca Lester, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Monday that carbon could be stored for hundreds of years.

"We know from those initial studies that the potential for carbon to be stored in these systems is huge," Xinhua news agency quoted Lester as saying.

"Wetlands can store approximately 50 times as much carbon as quite high carbon sequestration ecosystems such as tropical rain forests."

Carbon storage, which is fast gaining popularity as a way to counter the effects of climate change and fossil fuel emissions, is the process of capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Research on the method has so far focused on terrestrial and coastal ecosystems such as carbon farming, or through sea-grass.

Lester suggested freshwater ecosystems might perform better than rain forests because of the way sediment and organic matter build up under water.

The sediment keeps the new leaves and tree matter in place while the organic matter is broken down. The slower breakdown acts as a carbon sink.

Rain forests are well known to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, however the carbon only remains stored for the life span of the tree.

Preliminary data also suggested freshwater wetlands were eight times more effective than sea-grasses.

Since European settlement, around 85 percent of Australia’s wetlands have been drained for urban development and farming, while across the world, 50 percent have been destroyed since 1900.

Flinders University in South Australia, the University of Liverpool in Britain and the University of Arizona in the US will join Deakin University researchers in future study of the wetlands’ carbon capture.

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