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A seagrass meadow. Photo: Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research at Edith Cowan University

Meadows of seagrass on the ocean floor are among the planet's most efficient ecosystems for absorbing and storing carbon.

Why it matters: Climate change, industrial and agricultural run-off, and development along coastlines are threatening the world's seagrass meadows.

  • About 161,150 hectares of seagrass have been lost along Australia's coasts since the 1950s, releasing carbon dioxide equivalent to that from 5 million cars each year, according to new research.

What they did: Cristian Salinas of Edith Cowan University and his colleagues compared carbon stored in the sediment of seagrass meadows with areas that no longer had seagrass in western Australia's Cockburn Sound.

  • A loss of seagrass by itself didn't account for the carbon dioxide emitted from the soil, the researchers report in the journal Global Change Biology.
  • Waves, tides and currents disrupted the soil and sand in shallow areas without seagrass, releasing the carbon sequestered in it.
  • They also found seagrass meadows in shallow water stored more carbon than those in deep water, making the nearshore an important area to preserve, Salinas notes.

The big picture: Seagrass meadows — made up of more than 70 species of the marine flowering plant — filter seawater, buffer ocean acidification, regulate carbon and are home to more than 20% of the world's largest fisheries.

  • "In one square meter is the same amount of carbon that can be sequestered in 30-40 square meters of forest," says Salinas.
  • About 7% of the habitat is lost each year, contributing up to 299 Tg of carbon to the atmosphere, according to a June report from the U.N. Environment Programme.
  • The U.N. and others are urging countries to preserve and restore seagrass as one way to address climate change.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Aug 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Occidental Petroleum teams with private equity firm to deploy carbon capture tech in U.S.

Image courtesy of Carbon Engineering

Occidental Petroleum has teamed up with Rusheen Capital Management to advance plans by Canada-based Carbon Engineering to build a direct air capture plant in the Permian Basin — and eventually facilities elsewhere, too.

Why it matters: It's a step toward building a plant that the companies say would be the world's largest direct air capture (DAC) facility, with the capacity to remove up to 1 million metric tons of atmospheric CO2 annually.

Trump's coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on election fraud conspiracy theories, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Assassination in Iran sets stage for tense final 50 days of Trump

The funeral ceremony in Tehran. Photo: Iranian Defense Ministry via Getty

Iranian leaders are weighing their response to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, known as the father of Iran’s military nuclear program, who was given a state funeral Monday in Tehran.

The big picture: Iran has accused Israel of carrying out Friday’s attack, but senior leaders have suggested that they’ll choose patience over an immediate escalation that could play into the hands of the Israelis and the outgoing Trump administration.