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New research could help green Virginia with blue carbon

Photo Credit: FrankRamspott

For more than 30 years, conservationists have used a variety of tools and resources to address water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay. Now, they are throwing the carbon sink into the mix to help citizens make more informed land management decisions.

Carbon sink describes a process in which coastal sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes capture and hold carbon. Marshes contain highly productive plants with typically stable sediments, resulting in significant pools of stored carbon. These coastal ecosystems actually help us go green by capturing blue carbon, reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere.

However, marshes and other blue carbon reservoirs are declining in many areas. This decline can be largely attributed to human disturbance and erosion, which causes the carbon stored in marshes to be released. NRCS soil surveys are an invaluable resource for estimating blue carbon because they map soil types, but missing or incomplete information can affect these estimates. Tidal fringe marshes are often overlooked because they are long narrow features and difficult to map remotely.

With help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), including Senior Regional Soil Scientist Greg Taylor, Research Scientists Julie Herman and Molly Mitchell at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) are embarking on a new project to  better track this critical conservation target. A Soil Science Collaborative Research grant will provide funding needed to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based model for mapping/quantifying these stocks to produce more complete soil surveys in coastal Virginia and North Carolina.