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    Rapid carbon accumulation at a saltmarsh restored by managed realignment exceeded carbon emitted in direct site construction

    Mossman, Hannah L, Pontee, Nigel, Born, Katie, Hill, Colin, Lawrence, Peter J, Rae, Stuart, Scott, James, Serato, Beatriz, Sparkes, Robert B, Sullivan, Martin JP and Dunk, Rachel M (2022) Rapid carbon accumulation at a saltmarsh restored by managed realignment exceeded carbon emitted in direct site construction. PLoS One, 17 (11). e0259033-e0259033. ISSN 1932-6203

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    Abstract

    Increasing attention is being paid to the carbon sequestration and storage services provided by coastal blue carbon ecosystems such as saltmarshes. Sites restored by managed realignment, where existing sea walls are breached to reinstate tidal inundation to the land behind, have considerable potential to accumulate carbon through deposition of sediment brought in by the tide and burial of vegetation in the site. While this potential has been recognised, it is not yet a common motivating factor for saltmarsh restoration, partly due to uncertainties about the rate of carbon accumulation and how this balances against the greenhouse gases emitted during site construction. We use a combination of field measurements over four years and remote sensing to quantify carbon accumulation at a large managed realignment site, Steart Marshes, UK. Sediment accumulated rapidly at Steart Marshes (mean of 75 mm yr-1) and had a high carbon content (4.4% total carbon, 2.2% total organic carbon), resulting in carbon accumulation of 36.6 t ha-1 yr-1 total carbon (19.4 t ha-1 yr-1 total organic carbon). This rate of carbon accumulation is an order of magnitude higher than reported in many other restored saltmarshes, and is somewhat higher than values previously reported from another hypertidal system (Bay of Fundy, Canada). The estimated carbon emissions associated with the construction of the site were ~2-4% of the observed carbon accumulation during the study period, supporting the view that managed realignment projects in such settings may have significant carbon accumulation benefits. However, uncertainties such as the origin of carbon (allochthonous or autochthonous) and changes in gas fluxes need to be resolved to move towards a full carbon budget for saltmarsh restoration.

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