American Geophysical Union Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences

Long‐Term Carbon Sinks in Marsh Soils of Coastal Louisiana are at Risk to Wetland Loss

Mar 30, 2021

Author(s): Melissa M. Baustian, Camille L. Stagg, Carey L. Perry, Leland C. Moss, Tim J.B. Carruthers

Coastal marshes are essential habitats for soil carbon accumulation and burial, which can influence the global carbon budget. Coastal Louisiana has extensive marsh habitats (fresh, intermediate, brackish, and saline) where soil cores were collected to a depth of 100 cm at 24 sites to assess long‐term carbon accumulation and burial rates. Select soil depth intervals were analyzed for bulk density, total carbon, and radionuclide (137Cs and 210Pb) dating. Marsh habitat maps (years 1949–2013) were also used to determine the most frequently occurring habitat at each field site. Over 5 decades, half of the sites transitioned between marsh habitats at least once. Saline marshes tended to have lower mean total carbon density (0.04 ± 0.002 g cm−3) and lower mean long‐term total carbon accumulation rates (211 ± 46 g TC m−2 yr−1, n = 5, based on 210Pb) compared to the other marsh habitats. Using marsh habitat specific accumulation rates and area, the total carbon burial rate for coastal Louisiana in year 2013 was estimated at 4.3 Tg TC yr−1 which accounts for about 5%–21% of the estimated tidal wetland burial rate globally. Historically, about 1.0 Tg TC yr−1 was lost due to reduced marsh area from 1949 to 2013. With no coastal restoration activity, the predicted wetland loss over the next 50 years could reduce carbon burial in coastal Louisiana to 2.1 Tg TC yr−1, a reduction of about 50% from the year 2013 rate, with potential to significantly alter the global carbon budget.