CA coastline dotted with carbon hot spots, new study by Bay Area researchers shows

ByDrew Tuma and Tim Didion KGO logo
Monday, December 11, 2023
CA coastline dotted with carbon hot spots, research shows
Research conducted by Greater Farallones Association and NOAA shows the California coastline is dotted with carbon hot spots.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Watching a majestic parade of whales migrating by, or discovering the stunning array of marine creatures thriving beneath the surface, it's easy to understand the urgency of protecting our Bay Area coastline. But now, researchers believe there is another powerful reason -- one that could be critical in the fight against climate change.

"So I think what's most significant about the seafloor, is that it is the final resting place of carbon. It's kind of the ultimate carbon reservoir on the planet," said Sara Hutto, climate change coordinator with the Greater Farallones Association.

She's also part of a research team documenting what they call "carbon hot spots." They often muddy stretches of ocean floor where huge amounts of carbon settles, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Much of the work was done at the Greater Farallones Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries.

MORE: Stanford researchers propose string of small marine sanctuaries to combat climate change

"And so this study is just one piece of that to say, hey, the seafloor holds a lot of carbon. It's constantly accumulating carbon, and a piece of our climate strategy to be should be to ensure that, that can keep taking place," Hutto said.

First, it helps to understand that even muddy areas of the sea bed are teaming with life. That marine life is also a source of the organic material -- or ocean carbon-- that ultimately settles on the seabed. And researchers argue that managing those sections of sea floor correctly could help keep that natural carbon sequestered. .

"So that's certainly a conversation for decision makers," said co-author Doug George, an ocean scientist with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He acknowledges that coastal areas are also attractive for industries like off-shore wind farms, ocean wave power, oil drilling and off-shore mining, and that governments may need to work to strike a healthy balance.

MORE: Volunteer project surveys Bay Area coast, sea life to predict impacts of climate change

"And anything that is disturbing the seafloor is going to move that sediment potentially back up into the water," George explains.

The team is working to create a kind off blueprint to help countries around the world to identify carbon hot spots along their own coastlines and perhaps begin the process of better protecting them.

"We want state agencies to take this up so that they can better understand how their decisions for the coastline and for the seafloor can be informed by where these carbon hot spots are," Hutto said.

The research team is now presenting their carbon findings at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai.

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