Carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere is the primary driver of human-caused climate change. When we talk about carbon in the atmosphere, carbon sources and carbon sinks are often mentioned. But what is the difference between a source and a sink?
A carbon source is just what it sounds like – something that puts carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The largest source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation.
A carbon sink is something that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Plants are very effective carbon sinks, as they take in carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis. The ocean also functions as a sink for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – however, the combination of water with carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid, which results in ocean acidification and causes other environmental issues like coral bleaching.
One of the key ways in which we can fight climate change is by employing these carbon sinks. Although large forests like the Amazon are vital natural carbon sinks, important research is taking place every day to develop and discover new potential, technologies, and strategies for carbon removal. One of these strategies is reforestation, where new trees are planted in previously-forested areas where trees had been cut down for development or to provide resources. Another carbon sink technology is biochar – partially burned crop waste that, when added to soil, enriches the soil for plant growth and functions as a carbon sink. Other interesting carbon sink strategies and technologies can be found at this link
Aquatic plants have great potential to be grown as carbon sinks, as the ocean is home to many diverse species of plants. One recent study has shown that seagrasses in deep waters are able to store large amounts of carbon – just like their shallow-water counterparts. It was previously thought that deep water meadows would not store as much carbon, because the grasses are shorter and less dense than their shallow water meadows; and less sunlight reaches deeper parts of the ocean. A deep seagrass meadow that covers the same area as Switzerland, located near the Great Barrier Reef, has great potential to function as a carbon sink and help fight climate change. For more information on this study, check out this link
While large-scale carbon sinks are a key element in preventing worst-case climate change, individual efforts are also an important piece of the puzzle. Adding a garden to your yard is a great way to help take carbon out of the atmosphere and increase air quality in your area. Gardening is a great hobby, but of course, not everyone has time to maintain a full garden. To make this easier, try adding some low-maintenance plants to your yard to increase your home’s potential as a carbon sink.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
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