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News Release

New Research Could Help Virginia Go Greener with Blue Carbon: VIMS receives NRCS funding for mapping estuarine landscapes

Contact:
David Harper, NRCS / David Malmquist, VIMS
(804) 287-1647 / (804) 684-7011


  Marshes contain highly productive plants with typically stable sediments, resulting in significant pools of stored carbon.
  NRCS soil surveys are an invaluable resource for estimating blue carbon because they map soil types, but missing or incomplete information on tidal fringe marshes can affect these estimates. (Photo courtesy of VIMS)

Richmond, VA – For more than 30 years, conservationists have used a variety of tools and resources to address water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay. Now, they are throwing the carbon sink into the mix to help citizens make more informed land management decisions.

Carbon sink describes a process in which coastal sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes capture and hold carbon. Marshes contain highly productive plants with typically stable sediments, resulting in significant pools of stored carbon. These coastal ecosystems actually help us go green by capturing blue carbon, reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere.

However, marshes and other blue carbon reservoirs are declining in many areas. This decline can be largely attributed to human disturbance and erosion, which causes the carbon stored in marshes to be released. NRCS soil surveys are an invaluable resource for estimating blue carbon because they map soil types, but missing or incomplete information can affect these estimates. Tidal fringe marshes are often overlooked because they are long narrow features and difficult to map remotely.

With help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), including Senior Regional Soil Scientist Greg Taylor, Research Scientists Julie Herman and Molly Mitchell at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) are embarking on a new project to  better track this critical conservation target. A Soil Science Collaborative Research grant will provide funding needed to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based model for mapping/quantifying these stocks to produce more complete soil surveys in coastal Virginia and North Carolina.

“NRCS soil scientists covered a lot of ground to map Virginia’s 26,090,600 acres of land, but we still have areas to improve upon due, in part, to scale issues associated with wetlands,” says J. David Harper, State Soil Scientist. “This project will not only improve carbon stocks records but also enhance coastal zone soil maps and soils data.”

GIS will be an essential tool to map, analyze and display spatial data at multiple scales, and to incorporate new remotely sensed and field data into soil surveys. State-specific tidal marsh layers and land cover can be used to augment and update soil surveys using GIS. Soil cores collected in tidal marshes will be processed to calculate carbon stocks for those individual marshes and establish statistical relationships for estimating carbon across marsh types and locations.

“Blue carbon stocks in tidal marshes contain organic matter and mineral sediments transported from surrounding areas,” Herman said. “We hypothesize that the blue carbon stock of a given tidal marsh can be predicted by soil survey and land cover data.” 

The VIMS Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM) plans to collaborate with NRCS scientists on the two-year project set to begin in September 2019. A web tool specific to blue carbon stocks will be designed and hosted on the CCRM website. Data from this project will be developed and delivered to NRCS in a format compatible with NRCS soil surveys. 

NRCS has supported this collaborative research for 12 years, accepting new proposals annually. This year, that agency received 32 applications and provided $1.9 million for 15 projects in 14 states. Awards are based on nationally and regionally identified needs on rural lands and in cities. The information gained from the collaborative research will advance the agency’s ability to provide science-based soil and ecosystem information to help address important natural resources issues facing our nation.

“Methodologies developed in this project should also be transportable to tidal marshes in other states in the Major Land Resource Area*, including New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia with some additional field work to verify the carbon relationships,” added Herman.

Virginia institutions of higher learning have a unique opportunity to help identify innovative solutions and technological advances to help address important natural resource issues facing our nation.  Learn more.

 

*A Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) is a geographic area, usually several thousand acres, that is
 characterized by a particular pattern of soils, climate, water resourcesland uses and type of farming.