- The Blue Carbon Explorer, a digital tool developed by the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and the Earth-imaging company Planet, combines satellite imagery, drone footage and fieldwork to map mangroves and seagrass in the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
- The tool aims to help scientists, conservationists and governments gauge mangrove health and identify areas in need of restoration.
- The Blue Carbon Explorer comes at a time of growing interest in blue carbon ecosystems as potential nature-based solutions for climate change.
When Hurricane Dorian blazed its trail of destruction through the Bahamas in 2019, it ravaged the country’s mangroves. Almost overnight, coastal communities were deprived of a natural barrier that protected them from high tides and storm surges. Since then, several nonprofits and local organizations have taken up restoration projects to revive mangroves in the island nation.
But given the scale of destruction, where do you begin? How do you determine which areas to prioritize?
Florida-based nonprofit Perry Institute for Marine Sciences used a recently developed online tool to answer these questions. The Blue Carbon Explorer mapped out mangroves in the Bahamas, including a color-coded depiction of how their health had changed over time: red for mangrove loss, black for no change and green for mangrove growth.
With the help of this data, the Perry team was able to pinpoint areas where mangroves had degraded and were not likely to recover naturally and used this information to prioritize sites for restoration. The team is currently working with local groups to try out a suite of methods to restore mangroves in the worst-affected areas, including direct planting, letting waves disperse propagules naturally and dropping propagules from drones in hard-to-reach areas.
“The data in the tool found … degraded mangroves that are more isolated from the healthier ones,” Valerie Pietsch McNulty, conservation scientist at the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, told Mongabay in a video interview. “Those areas are less likely to recover naturally because they aren’t close to a seed source.”
The Nature Conservancy and the Earth-imaging company Planet developed the Blue Carbon Explorer, launching it in April. It combines high-resolution satellite images with drone footage and fieldwork to map out mangroves and seagrass. While the Bahamas was the first location where data from the Blue Carbon Explorer was applied for conservation purposes, the freely available tool also displays mangrove and seagrass vegetation across the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, with plans to scale up across the world currently underway.
The Blue Carbon Explorer is not the first tool to map coastal ecosystems. However, because it uses satellite imagery from Planet, which operates one of largest satellite fleets in the world, the platform provides images in a high resolution, giving conservationists and governments access to data at a granular level.
“It’s a major advance because high resolution data lets these types of models be more accurate at scales that are more relevant to local populations,” Nicholas Murray, a senior lecturer in global ecology and conservation at James Cook University whose research focuses on coastal ecosystem changes and the application of scientific research in conservation, told Mongabay in a video interview. “This data will be extremely useful for people at a local level rather than just giving a broader picture, which is common in these types of analyses.”
The tool’s launch comes at a time of growing global interest in blue carbon ecosystems — mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes — as potential nature-based solutions for climate change. Mangroves, for instance, sequester carbon from the air and store it in the soil and roots; per hectare, they can store four times more carbon dioxide than terrestrial forests, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Seagrass meadows, on the other hand, store twice the amount of carbon dioxide per hectare as terrestrial forests, according to another study published in the same journal in 2012. These ecosystems also help buffer coastal communities against flooding and sea level rise, provide livelihoods for them, and are critical habitats for a wide variety of species.
Mapping and monitoring these important carbon sinks in high resolutions over spatial and temporal scales is imperative to conserving them, scientists say. “For knowing where negative changes are happening and whether conservation is working or not, these types of large-scale monitoring studies are important,” Murray said.
To make better estimates, the scientists who developed the Blue Carbon Explorer also derive information about mangrove canopy height from the GEDI mission, an effort to estimate biomass on Earth using lasers mounted on the International Space Station that is on hiatus until 2024. Apart from displaying the spread of mangroves and details on their health, the tool also enables users to extract other insights from the data.
“Sometimes, we don’t know what’s causing the degradation,” McNulty of The Nature Conservancy said. “Being able to see when the degradation started allows us to relate it to a hurricane or some kind of coastal development, and that gives us some insight on how we can mitigate those threats and make sure restorations are effective.”
As with any technology, McNulty said, the tool is to be used only as a guide. She emphasized that the expertise and knowledge of local communities take priority when governments and conservation organizations make plans for restoration. “It’s not a final decision-maker and needs validation on the ground at the local level,” she said.
The team is now working with the Bahamian government’s forestry department and local universities to set up monitoring programs to gather more field data, including information about tree height and canopy density. Determining the dimensions of mangroves accurately will improve estimates of the carbon they store.
McNulty said the field data also comes in handy for corroborating information from satellite imagery. For instance, while setting up the Blue Carbon Explorer, McNulty’s team initially misclassified another ecosystem as mangrove.
“Specifically in the Bahamas, there is this habitat called coppice that grows right up to mangroves,” she said. “We had to collect a lot of field data from right at the edge of where those habitats transition in order to make sure that those weren’t being mapped as mangroves.”
In September, Planet announced that in 2024 it would launch satellites with hyperspectral imaging capabilities that analyze a bigger spectrum of light than most satellites currently do, resulting in clearer, more detailed images. This could amp up the Blue Carbon Explorer’s utility.
“Their advanced sensing capability could look down at mangroves and seagrass and they would be able to differentiate between species, tell us about the biodiversity and how it is spread across the region,” Andrew Zolli, Planet’s chief impact officer, told Mongabay in a video interview. “They are also good at detecting methane and carbon dioxide emissions from these ecosystems.”
Zolli said he believes these data will be essential to track and monitor blue carbon as it emerges as a potential climate financing pathway. “If you can understand where it is, you can potentially finance climate adaptation and mitigation activities and help the communities that have stewardship over those coastal ecosystems do a more effective job,” he said.
Scientists who study coastal ecosystems say tools such as the Blue Carbon Explorer have reshaped how they access and analyze satellite data. The next step, they say, is to ensure that the data get to them faster so they can implement conservation actions more quickly.
“These tools have made cutting-edge science available to people and are breaking down barriers between science and real-world conservation,” Nicholas Murray said. “When I think of the world in 2030, I want the next step to be able to use this billions of dollars worth of space infrastructure to understand changes in the environment at a temporal scale that is really short and quick.”
Banner image: Coral reef, ocean, mangroves, and forest in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.
Abhishyant Kidangoor is a staff writer at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @AbhishyantPK.
Return of the GEDI: Space-based, forest carbon-mapping laser array saved
Donato, D. C., Kauffman, J. B., Murdiyarso, D., Kurnianto, S., Stidham, M., & Kanninen, M. (2011). Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics. Nature Geoscience, 4(5), 293-297. doi:10.1038/ngeo1123
Fourqurean, J. W., Duarte, C. M., Kennedy, H., Marbà, N., Holmer, M., Mateo, M. A., … Serrano, O. (2012). Seagrass ecosystems as a globally significant carbon stock. Nature Geoscience, 5(7), 505-509. doi:10.1038/ngeo1477
carbon, Carbon Conservation, Climate Change, Climate Change And Conservation, Coastal Ecosystems, Conservation, Conservation Technology, Drones, Environment, Happy-upbeat Environmental, Mangroves, Mapping, Marine Conservation, Oceans, Oceans And Climate Change, Satellite Imagery, Technology, Technology And Conservation, technology development, Tropical Forests, Wildtech
The Blue Carbon Explorer, a digital tool developed by the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and the Earth-imaging company Planet, combines satellite imagery, drone footage and fieldwork to map mangroves and seagrass in the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.What is blue carbon ecosystem? ›
Blue carbon is the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests and are now being recognised for their role in mitigating climate change.What are the threats to blue carbon ecosystems? ›
Blue carbon ecosystems (mangroves, saltmarshes, and seagrass) are degraded and destroyed globally due to human activities. Common causes include: reclamation of land for construction, deforestation for timber and development, conversion to aquaculture ponds, terrestrial and marine pollution, and coastal development.How much carbon do blue carbon ecosystems store? ›
Carbon accumulates in seagrasses over time and is stored almost entirely in the soils, which have been measured up to four meters deep. Although seagrasses account for less than 0.2% of the world's oceans, they sequester approximately 10% of the carbon buried in ocean sediment annually (27.4Tg of carbon per year)*.What are blue carbon projects? ›
Blue carbon projects are projects that safeguard and restore marine and coastal habitats. Projects involving mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes, are considered blue carbon initiatives. Mangrove forests have been a popular option among these blue carbon projects.Which is the largest blue carbon project? ›
Delta Blue Carbon: the world's largest “blue carbon” project
Located on the south-east coast of Pakistan, Delta Blue Carbon is the largest mangrove forest restoration project in the world. In total the project spans 350,000 hectares – an area bigger than Luxembourg.
What is 'blue carbon'? “Blue carbon” is the carbon that is stored naturally by marine and coastal ecosystems, hence the name. Three types of coastal ecosystems — mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes — store half the “blue” carbon buried beneath the ocean floor.What are the pros and cons of blue carbon? ›
Blue carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sink, avoid CO2 emissions after project life spans, preserve biodiversity, maintain water quality, and are relatively cost-effective. However, they also often lack permanence, a standardized methodology, and large-scale funding.How big is the blue carbon market? ›
The Taskforce's January 2021 report concluded that demand for carbon credits will likely increase by a factor of 15 by 2030, making the market worth $50 billion.Where does blue carbon come from? ›
Blue Carbon (BC) refers to organic carbon that is captured and stored by the oceans and coastal ecosystems, particularly by vegetated coastal ecosystems: seagrass meadows, tidal marshes, and mangrove forests.
The ecosystem storing most carbon per area is actually tundra, followed by seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and salt marshes.Where is the largest carbon store on Earth? ›
The amount of carbon stored in a particular system is called a “stock” or a “pool”. The Earth's largest carbon stock is found within the continental crusts and upper mantle of the Earth, a large portion of which is sedimentary rock formed over millions of years (2).What stores the most carbon on Earth? ›
On Earth, most carbon is stored in rocks and sediments, while the rest is located in the ocean, atmosphere, and in living organisms. These are the reservoirs, or sinks, through which carbon cycles.What is the largest carbon project? ›
The Kariba project is by far their most important: in 2022, it accounted for about a tenth of South Pole's revenue, which it claims was 232 million euros.What is the largest carbon sequestration project in the world? ›
The Shute Creek Gas Processing Plant in the United States has the largest carbon capture and storage capacity of all CCS facilities worldwide in 2022, at seven million metric tons per year (Mtpa).How can we protect blue carbon ecosystems? ›
Conserving Coastal Habitats
Projects that restore salt marshes, wetlands, and estuaries can sequester and store significant quantities of carbon, while also providing other social and economic benefits to local communities.
Transportation (28% of 2021 greenhouse gas emissions) – The transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes.Who has the highest carbon dependency in the world? ›
China. China is the biggest polluter in the world, emitting more than 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.What ecosystem sequesters the most carbon? ›
Among terrestrial ecosystems and their habitats, forests have the highest carbon sequestration rates, reaching up to three times that of wetlands and agroecosystems (Figure 2).What are the blue carbon sites? ›
Blue carbon ecosystems include seagrass meadows, tidal marshes and mangroves. They are among the most intensive carbon sinks in the biosphere and play a central role in climate mitigation.
The Blue carbon market
The largest open sale of blue carbon credits to date, from the Delta Blue Carbon Project in November 2022, resulted in a price of $27.80 for all 250,000 credits from the 2021 vintage. However, over 30% of the bid volume included offers exceeding $35/tonne.
In addition to their carbon storage benefits, blue carbon ecosystems also provide jobs and income to local economies, improve water quality, support healthy fisheries, and provide coastal protection.Why is blue carbon expensive? ›
It's more expensive
Because the issues that blue carbon must address are more systematic than those involved with simple tree planting, the prices for blue carbon credits are much higher — between two and four times higher according to Scheelk.
There is a possibility that volcanic rock microbes can also digest the carbonates and hence produce methane gas which can be another problem. Another disadvantage of carbon capture storage is that it is not adequate to successfully deal with climate change.What is the difference between blue carbon and terrestrial forests? ›
They act as carbon sinks
Mangroves for instance can store up to 10 times more carbon per acre than land-based forests. This is because terrestrial forests store most of their carbon in their biomass (branches, roots, and leaves), while blue carbon ecosystems store most of their carbon in their soils.
Currently, India and China are the biggest sellers of carbon credit whereas countries in Europe are the biggest buyers. The concept of Carbon Credit Trading is set out in Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol.Who is the biggest buyer of carbon credits? ›
If you're wondering who is the largest seller of carbon credit, it's currently China and India. While the largest buyer of carbon credit is usually the countries in Europe.Who is the largest carbon credit trader? ›
The leading players in the carbon credit trading platform market include Nasdaq, Inc. (US), CME Group (US), AirCarbon Exchange (ACX) (Singapore), Carbon Trade Exchange (CTX) (UK) and Xpansiv (US).How much carbon does blue carbon sequester? ›
Provide habitat, erosion control, and other benefits with an estimated global value of nearly $29,000 per hectare per year. Can sequester approximately 1,230 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Store an estimated 10% of all organic carbon sequestered in the ocean annually.What organisms contribute to blue carbon? ›
Marine plants, such as seaweed and microalgae called phytoplankton take up atmospheric CO2 when they perform photosynthesis. This is known as blue carbon capture. Polar animals eat these phytoplankton and seaweeds and use the carbon in these plants to build their tissues and skeletons.
Decomposition of organic plant material is much slower when there is no oxygen present, so the carbon present in this plant material remains intact, rather than being broken down by microbes and respired back to the atmosphere. As a result, wetlands are very good carbon sinks (meaning they store a lot of carbon).What is the best tree for storing carbon? ›
Out of all conifer species, pine trees work best when it comes to storing carbon, while the blue spruce tree is a great option for northern regions. Within city limits, a horse chestnut tree is a fantastic option, while for smaller areas the black walnut tree and dogwood tree species should be considered.Which trees store carbon the fastest? ›
The live oak is the most efficient carbon capturing tree, it being able to sequester some 10,994 CO2 equivalent over its lifetime. Ranking second is the East Palatka holly, with a lifelong carbon fixation of 7,321 CO2 equivalent.What absorbs more CO2 trees or algae? ›
In addition, algae can consume more carbon dioxide than trees because it can cover more surface area and grow faster while producing more biomass in a limited space. Algae can be utilized in several ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.What are the 7 carbon sinks? ›
- Agricultural Lands.
- Northern, boreal forests.
- Tropical Rainforests.
- Peat Bogs.
- Freshwater lakes and wetlands.
- Coastal ecosystems such as seagrass beds, kelp forests, salt marshes and swamps.
- Coral reefs.
Carbon is stored on our planet in the following major sinks (1) as organic molecules in living and dead organisms found in the biosphere; (2) as the gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; (3) as organic matter in soils; (4) in the lithosphere as fossil fuels and sedimentary rock deposits such as limestone, dolomite and ...Where is most of the carbon stored in North America? ›
Much of this carbon is stored within soil layers deeper than 30 cm and in freshwater inland wetlands—particularly those in the Midwest where wetlands with deep organic soils commonly occur in the northern tier states.What are the 3 main carbon stores? ›
- atmosphere: mainly as carbon dioxide CO2 but also shorter-lived methane CH. ...
- biosphere: all living organisms are composed of carbon occupying various environments.
- cryosphere: the frozen ground of tundra and arctic regions containing plant material.
Because redwoods live for thousands of years, they are a very long-term source of carbon storage. Both young and old growth redwoods (which grow in many state parks, like Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park shown here) take CO2 out of the air, storing it for generations.What removes carbon from the atmosphere? ›
Carbon Dioxide Removal
The two main strategies for removing carbon from the atmosphere are tree planting and forest restoration or conservation efforts, and direct air capture (DAC), according to a World Resources Institute report released in 2020.
Although China currently emits the highest levels of CO₂ annually, it has emitted far less than the United States over the past three centuries. Since 1750, the United States has produced more than 400 billion metric tons of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions.What is blue carbon technology? ›
Blue carbon is the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests and are now being recognised for their role in mitigating climate change.What is the blue carbon in the US? ›
Our oceans and coasts provide a natural way of reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere through the sequestration (or taking in) of carbon. We call this “blue carbon.”How do I invest in blue carbon credits? ›
First, ensure you have access to a broker or exchange that deals in carbon credit certificates. This could be a stock market index, such as an ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund), or an exchange where you can buy these certificates directly. Next, put together a portfolio of carbon credits you want to invest in.What is blue carbon and why does it matter? ›
Blue carbon is any carbon stored by the ocean. Coastal blue carbon is carbon stored in the vegetation and soils of mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses. Protection and restoration of blue-carbon ecosystems have added benefits for wildlife, water quality, storm surge protection, and local economies.What is the difference between blue carbon and green carbon? ›
Green carbon: Commonly refers to carbon that is contained in living vegetation and soil in forest ecosystems of the terrestrial realm (Mackey et al., 2008). Blue carbon: Carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows (Murray et al.Which ecosystems sequester the most carbon? ›
Among terrestrial ecosystems and their habitats, forests have the highest carbon sequestration rates, reaching up to three times that of wetlands and agroecosystems (Figure 2).How does blue carbon help climate change? ›
The bigger picture of blue carbon is one of coastal habitat conservation. When these systems are damaged, an enormous amount of carbon is emitted back into the atmosphere, where it can then contribute to climate change. So protecting and restoring coastal habitats is a good way to reduce climate change.What are the components of blue carbon? ›
Blue carbon is a collective term for carbon bound in biotic components of coastal and marine ecosystems such as seagrass meadows and algae as well as in abiotic components such as the sediments of a marine or coastal ecosystem. Undisturbed, it remains stored there for hundreds to thousands of years.How do blue carbon ecosystems sequester and store carbon? ›
Coastal Blue Carbon Sequestration 101
Coastal wetland ecosystems (salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds) can store large quantities carbon for two main reasons: Their plants usually grow a lot each year, and in the process, capture (or sequester) large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The amount of carbon stored in a particular system is called a “stock” or a “pool”. The Earth's largest carbon stock is found within the continental crusts and upper mantle of the Earth, a large portion of which is sedimentary rock formed over millions of years (2).How can we protect blue carbon? ›
Conserving Coastal Habitats
Projects that restore salt marshes, wetlands, and estuaries can sequester and store significant quantities of carbon, while also providing other social and economic benefits to local communities.