Release Date: March 22, 2007
|DOE-Funded Research at Maryland Marsh Aids Climate Change Solutions
Marsh Restoration Efforts on the Chesapeake Bay Examine Potential Carbon Sequestration Sites
WASHINGTON, DC - Researchers from the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (MRCSP) recently paid a site visit to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to assess vigorous marsh restoration efforts and evaluate how this restoration contributes to carbon sequestration needs. The DOE-funded project seeks to combat global climate change by keeping carbon-capturing tidal marshes, such as the Blackwater site on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, from disappearing under rising sea waters.
Fifteen MRCSP members, including representatives from Battelle, which facilitates the partnership, met at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located near Cambridge, Md. Boarding boats especially suited to the shallow waters, sometimes only 3-4 feet deep, the representatives rode for 30 minutes to an island of restored marsh where they sometimes found themselves knee-deep in mud.
The site is teeming with wildlife from bald eagles to shellfish, and it's easy to understand why the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has been dubbed the "Everglades of the North." Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System which undertakes to "preserve, protect, and manage wildlife and habitat for future generations."
Many experts advise that severe reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases are needed to slow or stop climate change or global warming. Carbon sequestration uses a variety of methods to remove greenhouse gases, especially CO2, from power plant emissions or the air itself, and securely store those gases in geologic formations, soils and vegetation, or in other environmentally safe forms. The Blackwater project is an example of terrestrial carbon sequestration, which involves modifying the management of forests, rangelands, agricultural lands, and wetlands to either remove more CO2 from the air or reduce CO2 emissions from these ecosystems.
Wetlands and marshlands are especially well-suited to carbon sequestration because they annually accumulate large amounts of organic material. A major aspect of terrestrial carbon sequestration and the Blackwater project is to determine what types of wetlands might be best for storing carbon. Wetlands with the highest accretion levels build up the most soil and have the greatest potential for long-term, continual carbon storage. Additionally, the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay tidal marshes produce minimal amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.
Because the Blackwater estuary is a natural carbon sink, the DOE Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and the State of Maryland are attempting to preserve the estuary and maintain a level of natural carbon sequestration. Unfortunately, the Blackwater area loses 150-400 acres per year from sea level rise, sinking, erosion, salt water intrusion, and plant-eating invasive species such as nutria and Canadian geese. Loss of this wetland means loss of a valuable natural carbon sequestration site. But thanks to research from the University of Maryland, an MRCSP partner, efforts are underway to restore the wetlands. The university is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Port Administration, and other partners with the ultimate goal of rebuilding up to 20,000 acres.
The University of Maryland's research investigates the potential of reclaimed wetland and marshland for carbon sequestration, focusing on the rate of sequestration and the total amount of carbon that can be impounded in restored versus natural marshes. Other goals of the project include identifying the best management practices to maximize carbon sequestration and determining a sampling protocol for validation that can be used at other sites.
To date, 27 acres of the marsh have been restored. In order to keep the Port of Baltimore channels open, the Maryland Port Administration must dispose of 3-4 million cubic yards of clean dredge material annually. This dredge finds a new home as it is transplanted to restore the wetlands at the refuge. Volunteers then plant marsh grasses on this clean dredge to restore the marsh.
The MRCSP is one of seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships created by the Department of Energy in 2002. The partnerships pull together more than 300 organizations spanning 40 states, three Indian nations, and four Canadian provinces. Following an initial characterization phase (phase I), in which the partnerships began developing the framework to validate and deploy sequestration technologies in their respective regions, the partnerships moved on to a validation phase (phase II), which focuses on validating the most promising regional opportunities to deploy carbon sequestration technologies.
On October 31, 2006, the Department of Energy announced a third phase of the partnerships project, which will significantly expand the scope and funding for the regional partnerships. DOE expects to make official phase III awards in fall of 2007.