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Seagrass beds would not store as much CO2 as previously thought

Seagrasses (marine meadows), also known by the name of seagrass beds, consist of large groups of plants that are located at shallow depths in most coastal salt waters of the world.

But when they are unknown and not very visible, they also tend to constitute precious ecosystems for the different species that surround them. And, as scientists have been arguing for quite some time too, they could also play an important role in the fight against climate change .

Why? These aquatic plants have the ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide , which they later use in order to feed their tissues through the photosynthesis process. Finally, when they die, they settle on the sediments on the seabed, trapping the CO2 they contain.

It is estimated that seagrasses constitute only 0.2% of the seafloor, but would actually represent no less than 10% of the oceans’ carbon storage capacity .

And according to an estimate published by The Economist in October 2019, they could be able to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical forests .

But there’s a problem. And it is that, it seems, these beds of seagrasses would not really be a miracle solution to fight against climate change. And this is what scientists explain in a new study that was recently published in Science Advances .

In that study, their authors reveal that the carbon dioxide sequestration potential of seagrass beds could be, indeed, overestimated .

To reach this conclusion, the scientists tested a new combination of methods in order to obtain a much more complete and accurate assessment of the carbon dioxide produced and consumed by an ecosystem. In this case, they were especially interested in the chemical exchanges between air and water, water and sediments, and between the sediments themselves.

As stated in a press release by Dr. Bryce Van Dam, a biogeochemist at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon Center in Germany, and first author of the study, “By linking measurements in sediments with associated measurements in water and air, we were able to track and report on important processes that drive the ecosystem towards the storage or release of CO2 ”.

The results of this investigation revealed that, under certain conditions, the carbon sequestration potential of marine plants could be significantly altered , as occurred when taking measures off the coast of Florida, whose tropical grasslands would be absorbing considerably less carbon dioxide. carbon than had been estimated.

And they also found that, on some coasts, they could even emit more CO2 than they absorbed.

Dr. Van Dam indicated that “whether seagrass beds really help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere depends on many different processes,” particularly evoking the role of carbonate dissolution resulting from rock erosion.

Normally these compounds tend to be the ones that bind to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and are subsequently trapped in water. Thus, the more carbon in the water, the more carbon dioxide is absorbed. Except, apparently, in warmer tropical waters , where a greater amount of CO2 is released.

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