Image from StormyDog
It may seem hard to believe, but the planet's wetlands, which comprise 6% of its land surface area, contain 771 billion tons of carbon dioxide -- 20% of the Earth's carbon supply and roughly the same amount that is currently in the atmosphere. Wetlands include a wide array of different ecosystems, such as marshes, swamps, river deltas and mangroves, and perform a variety of vital ecological functions.
It shouldn't come as a surprise then that scientists are now warning that their destruction could unleash the equivalent of a carbon "bomb," with grave consequences for the world's climate.
Image from Dean Forbes
Another climate tipping point?
A tipping point of such magnitude could very well precipitate Earth into a period of "abrupt" climate change -- causing fundamental shifts in our climate that would seriously endanger human and natural systems. Over the past century, around 60% of the world's wetlands have been cleared to make way for urban development and agricultural activities. A number of other anthropogenic activities, including pollution and groundwater pumping, have only made things worse.
Restoring our wetlands now would be easier and cheaper
As we saw in the case of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the wanton destruction of wetlands for human gain can have devastating consequences. While we may be unable to stop the rapid melting of wetland permafrost in the Arctic, which could cause the release of another carbon bomb, scientists stress that it would be far cheaper to maintain our existing wetlands now than wait and try rebuilding them later.
Consequences of a warming world
Paulo Teixeira, the coordinator of Brazil's Pantanal Regional Environment Program, told Reuters' Deborah Zabarenko that climate change could evaporate their water supply and, as sea levels continue to rise, cause their inundation. With climate scientists predicting that a warmer world will bring more frequent storms, protecting our wetlands now could save us a lot of trouble down the line.
Via ::Reuters: Wetlands could unleash "carbon bomb" (news website)