Literature Review Chapter: Fate of Carbon in a Seagrass Dominated Ecosystem

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Fate of Carbon in a Sea Grass Dominated Ecosystem

Perhaps the most pressing concern for the world is the rising rate of global warming in the 21st century. Many discussions have taken place on the global front to discuss the possible steps to decrease this rate. On aspect that has been discussed diligently in relation to global warming is the rise of Co2. In a relevant research study, Longuhurst asserts that in order "to reduce the rate of global warming due to rising CO2, the potential for sequestering carbon by oceanic phytoplankton has received considerable international attention, which has culminated with a research agenda" (Longhurst 1991). Other researchers have also confirmed that the restriction of carbon under sea level as well as using the terrestrial structures to reduce Co2 rates are interesting topics due to the huge potential they have if used appropriately (Sampson 1992). The diagram below illustrate the levels of Co2 emissions in the ecosystem over a period of 2 centuries (Houghton et al., 1990)

This paper will aim to firstly review the carbon state in relation to global warming, land use and coastal structures as they stand today and secondly will analyze the data presented to present the fate of carbon in the global ecosystems.

There have been studies done in the past that have focused on the utilization of different aspects like kelps and photosynthetic responses in order to reduce carbon ratios in the global environments, but there is still very little evidence or focus given to the near-shore coastal structures and how they can serve in reducing the overall levels of carbon in the atmosphere (Titus and Stone, 1982). "The coastal system needs to be added to carbon cycle models because this sector (particularly in the tropics) has a high rate of carbon sequestration that has not been accounted for in terrestrial and oceanic carbon models" (Thom et al., 2001). The researchers add that the carbon reduction strategies can very effectively use the principles used in coastal ecosystem restoration to help countries reduce the carbon emissions (Thom et al., 2001).

Thom and colleagues in their study (2001) explain that "oceans play a key role in the global carbon cycle. Because of high primary productivity rates, relatively high nutrient concentrations, and coverage of the earth surface, coastal margins are an important component of the oceanic carbon cycle" (Thom et al., 2001). This is true as the overall productivity that takes place on the coastal margins is one of the primary energy sources for the oceanic life (Gacia et al., 2002). The fisheries on the coast also get a lot of their energy source from the coastal margins. With the increased importance of these coastal margins, there is a dire need for clearer understanding of the budget allocations needed. The relevant companies need to be completely aware of The various sources of carbon in the atmosphere,

The potential natural sources that help in its reduction as well as

The fate of carbon in the future

Clear definitions of these three aspects will help in the proper allocation of budget to help reduce global warming. Numerous international conferences were held to discuss the topic of necessary budgets in reducing global warming and in a summary of one important conference titled "Natural Sinks of CO2" in 1992, the researchers Wisniewski and Lugo (1992) asserted that it is extremely essential to incorporate "the coastal system along with the terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric systems in models of the carbon cycle because this sector of the biosphere (particularly in the tropics) has a high rate of carbon sequestration that has not been accounted for in terrestrial and oceanic carbon models." Including these will help in understanding how the importance of the coastal structure can assist in reducing the overall costs of global warming and carbon sinks as well as prevent it from resurfacing (Suzuki and Kawahata, 2003).

Carbon Sources

The primary sources of carbon in the near-shore coastal structures include the following:


Benthic microalgae,

Seaweeds and Seagrass,


Tidal (fresh, brackish, salt),

Marshes and mangroves

The diagram above illustrates the numerous sources of carbon in the ecosystem, both natural and man-made.

Other important sources of carbon in the coastal areas include the dissemination of CO2 (dispersed), the expiration of marine producers (particles), and terrestrial and estuarine remains (these are in both the dispersed and particles form) (Valiela, 1984). "The relative contribution of terrestrially derived carbon (C/N >10) and marine-derived carbon (C/N <6) varies along the coastal margin, depending largely upon the volume of riverine input and distance from the source. Internal sources of dissolved and particulate carbon include recycling of dead particles, exudation from producers, release from broken cells, and excretion by consumers" (Valiela, 1984).

The table below illustrates the levels of carbon that exist in the world as of the statistics available in 2001 (Falkowski et al. 2001):

There are of course other incidences when carbon emission can be increased especially during the upwelling episodes where the light particles get re-suspended and hence emit carbon the environment (Valiela 1992). One researcher asserts that "changing CO2, temperature, wind and rainfall patterns and other factors would influence the rate and pattern of forest processes and succession" (Agren et al. 1991). In another study, the researcher explains that "increased temperature is expected to result in forest areas being replaced by grasslands & #8230; [hence] carbon processing and storage and nutrient dynamics will also be affected" (Anderson 1991).

An important aspect to consider in the fate of carbon in the ecosystem is the input of the territorial resources. The land uses of resources are critical in influencing the overall transference of energy and nutrients to the coastal structures (e.g. Correll et al. 1992). Kehoe in an earlier study (1982) asserts that "large amounts of carbon enter estuarine and coastal systems from watersheds, and it is clear that the rates and mass of nutrients, organic matter and sediments reaching estuaries will be altered. Logging, road construction, river channelization and development in watersheds have resulted in considerable increases in suspended sediments in streams and rivers. In turn, estuarine sedimentation and turbidity are the result of sediment from logging operations" (Kehoe 1982 as cited in Thom et al. 2001). The chart below illustrates similar findings (FAO Corporate Documentary, 2001):

For example, consider the diagram below which illustrates the association of the nutrient in the land and the carbon budgets allotted for the ecosystems in the forests. A Symbols are used in the diagram to indicate whatever changes or switches that take place in the budget allotted and how that is affected by the nutrients in the land or the plants (Melillo and Gosz, 1983):

When specifically focusing on the Grays Harbor estuary, Washington, USA, the overall ratio of sediment inputs is nearly five times more after the roads have been built nearby or the soil has been waterlogged. This was the case in the watershed located in the Chehalis River. The reason behind this was that the heightened level of turbidity influenced the structure so that it restricted the dispersion of sea grass in that particular coastal region (Suzuki et al., 2003). This is perhaps one aspect that needs to be studied more thoroughly to understand the impact of the processes of sedimentation and turbidity on the estuarine structures that can occur because of the anthropogenic activities that taka place nearby or in the same vicinity (Houghton and Woodwell 1983, Smith and Hollibaugh 1993).


The primary formula to calculate the metabolic structures of the coastal systems is (Ziegler and Benner 1998):



GCP = gross community productivity

NPP = autotrophic net primary productivity

AR = respiration by autotrophs

HR = respiration by heterotrophs (Ziegler and Benner 1998)

Relevant definitions include:

CR = community respiration = AR + HR

GPP = gross primary productivity = NPP + AR (Ziegler and Benner 1998)

These definitions are integral when understating how the Metabolism of the carbon emissions in the ecosystem work, especially when calculating the irregularities on the carbon rates. Despite the usefulness of this formula, very few studies have used it to calculate the various sources of carbon and its potential sinks which leaves gaps in the knowledge of irregularities of carbon emissions (Tanaka and Nakaoka, 2007; Touchette and Burkholder, 2000). The following diagram illustrates the current cycle of carbon emission in the coastal and land ecosystems (FAO Corporate Documentary, 2001):

The diagram below illustrates the further division of the different land surfaces based on their ratio of carbon stocks and potential carbon emissions (FAO Corporate Documentary, 2001):

Carbon Fixation

The coastal structures like the benthic aquatic vegetation, upwelling areas amongst other have a much higher production and storage percentage of carbon then the biomass structures. This is why the overall turnover and transference of these smaller vegetations is also critical to consider when understanding the fate of carbon in the global ecosystems (e.g., Thom 1990). "Annual rates for tidal freshwater marshes, salt marshes, mangroves and seagrasses range from about 300-1000… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Fate of Carbon in a Seagrass Dominated Ecosystem.  (2010, October 31).  Retrieved June 17, 2019, from

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"Fate of Carbon in a Seagrass Dominated Ecosystem."  31 October 2010.  Web.  17 June 2019. <>.

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"Fate of Carbon in a Seagrass Dominated Ecosystem."  October 31, 2010.  Accessed June 17, 2019.