Wetland Scientist Sees Blue Carbon in Sacramento Delta as Golden Opportunity


The World Bank and the IUCN announced the publication of Mitigating Climate Change through Restoration and Management of Coastal Wetlands and Near-shore Marine Ecosystems. The report, which addresses the benefits of protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, was researched and presented by a team of climate change experts, including ESA PWA's Climate Change Program Manager, Stephen Crooks, Ph.D.

Converted and drained wetlands are a large, unaccounted source of carbon dioxide contributing to warming the atmosphere. “It’s been estimated that emissions from drained coastal wetlands, including mangroves and tidal marshes, release around half a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year,” said Dr. Crooks. “That’s equivalent to 1-2% of global human-derived emissions.”

In California, over the last century, drainage of 1,800 square kilometers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands has released 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, about one quarter of the total above ground carbon pool in California’s forests. This wetland carbon was sequestered over four thousand years, but released in just over 100 years. Each year, between 5 and 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide continue to be released from the Delta, or about 1.5% of California’s annual GHG emissions.

The report documents worldwide examples of wetland carbon sequestration, discusses metrics for assessing restoration feasibility and outlines opportunities for incorporating wetlands into international climate change policy. Restoration of certain wetlands offers particularly high carbon sequestration benefits. For instance, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands system sequesters and stores harmful carbon dioxide at much higher rates than forests.

Dr. Crooks has been on the leading edge of several national and international initiatives to promote Blue Carbon as a way to protect endangered wetlands by assigning credits to their stored carbon. For the Climate Action Reserve, he co-authored the first report on the potential for tidal wetlands based carbon offsets. The report, “Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Typology Issues Paper: Tidal Wetlands Restoration” outlined the state of the science and information needs to develop a carbon offset protocol for tidal wetlands in the US.

Dr. Crooks is co-chair of the International Working Group for Blue Carbon: a three year global initiative to guide and support activities on marine and coastal carbon systems. Recommendations on managing coastal blue carbon resources were released in March 2011, following the first workshop at UNESCO, Paris. Articles on their work have appeared in Nature News and Scientific American. In early April, he presented “Coastal Blue Carbon: Where are we and where are we going” to policy officers of Directorate General for Environment at the European Commission. At the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Crooks participated in the “Expert Meeting Scoping Additional Guidance on Wetlands Emissions Accounting.” During the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Tropical Wetlands Ecosystems of Indonesia meeting in Bali this week, he will be leading further discussions on international carbon markets and the integration of coastal conservation activities.

Dr. Crooks is also lead scientist for Restoring America’s Estuaries (RAE)’s landmark initiative to help coastal wetlands restoration and management projects issue carbon credits on the international voluntary and compliance carbon market. As the Chair of the National Blue Ribbon Panel, he led the development of an Action Plan to deliver the science and policy to support an offsets protocol for the Climate Action Reserve. RAE’s working group will draft ‘rules and requirements,’ setting the stage for developing wetlands project methodologies, both here in the US and internationally.

As a wetland scientist and Climate Change Program Manager at ESA PWA, Dr. Crooks has been critical to the firm’s pioneering efforts to restore natural wetland habitat through the integration of geomorphology, eco-hydraulics, and engineering. ESA PWA has led the restoration planning of 31,500-acres of tidal wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Delta, 10,500-acres of which have been constructed.

Press Release: Wetland Scientist Sees Blue Carbon in Sacramento Delta as Golden Opportunity