Destruction of wetlands will release massive greenhouse gases

July 21st, 2008 - 1:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 21 (IANS) Destruction of wetlands will release a staggering 771 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, with devastating consequences. Meeting in Cuiaba at the edge of South America’s Pantanal wetland on Monday, 700 experts from 28 nations at the 8th INTECOL International Wetlands Conference will prescribe measures urgently needed to manage these vibrant ecosystems.

Global warming is speeding both rates of decomposition of trapped organic material and evaporation, while threatening critical sources of wetlands recharge by melting glaciers and reducing precipitation.

Covering just six percent of earth’s surface, wetlands comprising marshes, peat bogs, swamps, river deltas, mangroves, tundra and lagoons, store 10-20 percent of its terrestrial carbon. Wetlands slow the decay of organic material trapped and locked away over the ages in low oxygen conditions.

“Humanity in many parts of the world needs a wake-up call to fully appreciate the vital environmental, social and economic services wetlands provide,” said conference co-chair Paulo Teixeira.

He is the coordinator of the Cuiaba-based Pantanal Regional Environmental Programme, a joint effort of the United Nations University and Brazil’s Federal University of Mato Grasso (UFMT), which will host the event.

If the decline of wetlands continues through human and climate change-related causes, scientists fear the release of carbon from these traditional sinks could compound the global warming problem significantly, said Prof. Paulo Speller, Rector of UFMT.

Some 60 percent of wetlands worldwide - and up to 90 percent in Europe - have been destroyed over the past century, due to drainage for agriculture but also through pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction.

“Wetlands act as sponges and their role as sources, reservoirs and regulators of water is largely unappreciated by many farmers and others who rely on steady water supplies,” said Wolfgang Junk of the Max Planck Institute.

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