Uncertainty in United States coastal wetland greenhouse gas inventorying

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 



Coastal wetlands store carbon dioxide (CO2) and emit CO2 and methane (CH4) making them an important part of greenhouse gas (GHG) inventorying. In the contiguous United States (CONUS), a coastal wetland inventory was recently calculated by combining maps of wetland type and change with soil, biomass, and CH4 flux data from a literature review. We assess uncertainty in this developing carbon monitoring system to quantify confidence in the inventory process itself and to prioritize future research. We provide a value-added analysis by defining types and scales of uncertainty for assumptions, burial and emissions datasets, and wetland maps, simulating 10 000 iterations of a simplified version of the inventory, and performing a sensitivity analysis. Coastal wetlands were likely a source of net-CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions from 2006–2011. Although stable estuarine wetlands were likely a CO2e sink, this effect was counteracted by catastrophic soil losses in the Gulf Coast, and CH4 emissions from tidal freshwater wetlands. The direction and magnitude of total CONUS CO2e flux were most sensitive to uncertainty in emissions and burial data, and assumptions about how to calculate the inventory. Critical data uncertainties included CH4 emissions for stable freshwater wetlands and carbon burial rates for all coastal wetlands. Critical assumptions included the average depth of soil affected by erosion events, the method used to convert CH4 fluxes to CO2e, and the fraction of carbon lost to the atmosphere following an erosion event. The inventory was relatively insensitive to mapping uncertainties. Future versions could be improved by collecting additional data, especially the depth affected by loss events, and by better mapping salinity and inundation gradients relevant to key GHG fluxes. 

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Uncertainty in United States coastal wetland greenhouse gas inventorying
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aae157
Volume 13
Issue 11
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher IOP
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Western Geographic Science Center
Description 115005, 16 p.
Country United States