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Healthier Wetlands Could Store More Carbon, New Study Shows

Kathleen Wetlands

In arid places like Wyoming, wetlands are rare, sometimes only two percent of the landscape. But the organic vegetation breaking down in wetland soils captures as much as 15 to 30 percent of the carbon on that landscape, and it could hold more if restored to better condition. 

That's according to University of Wyoming soil scientist Jay Norton who's studying the issue in the Sweetwater Basin. He said that might not sound like much, but soil carbon could be a possible solution to climate change.

"There are estimates that if we could raise soil organic carbon by about 0.4 percent per year that we would completely offset human-derived emissions of greenhouse gases."

Norton says right now overgrazing and a reliance on heavy tillage of crops are reducing wetlands in the state.
"Healthy soils have the optimal amount of soil carbon stored in them," said Norton. "A lot of our soils have less than that because of heavy tillage and other kinds of management in the past that we know now degrades soils. We're always looking for ways to recover that soil organic material or soil carbon storage."

Norton said wetlands are very resilient and can easily be brought back to health so they can store more carbon.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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