New research from Ducks Unlimited Canada and the University of Saskatchewan demonstrates climate-cooling effects of wetlands
Prairie wetlands are a powerful climate mitigation tool that can cool surrounding atmosphere by one to three degrees
Oak Hammock Marsh, Man. – The benefits of conserving wetlands for wildlife and recreation have long been established, but emerging research is determining that wetlands are a powerful climate mitigation tool. Already recognized as one of the most effective ecosystems at trapping and sequestering carbon and proven to act as a strong natural defence against flooding in the face of extreme weather, new research suggests we can add climate-cooling to the impressive list of wetland benefits.
A newly released study led by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) demonstrates that wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, which spans southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and areas of the United States, have the potential to cool the surrounding atmosphere by one to three degrees on summer days and reduce the number of hot days during heat waves.
The study authors added a wetland module to cutting-edge models that replicate interactions between land surfaces and climate. The research reveals that wetlands cool the climate by altering surface energy balances (how much energy is available to evaporate water and to raise the temperature) and affecting the lower atmosphere in ways that promote cloud formation. It also demonstrates that including wetlands in climate models improves model predictions about land surface temperature, evapotranspiration (how water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by soil evaporation and plant transpiration) and terrestrial water storage such as glaciers, snow, soil, groundwater, or wetlands.
The purpose of the study was to explore the impacts of wetlands on regional climate and improve their representation in climate modelling. “We are hopeful that continued research into the climate mitigating impacts of wetlands will influence decisions around land-use planning and reinforce the importance of these ecosystems in the minds of policy makers and regulators,” said Mark Gloutney, national director of science at DUC.
“While the magnitude of the cooling and reduction in hot days during a heatwave is notable, a key caveat of this study is that the benefit can only be realized when the wetlands aren’t dry,” said DUC research scientist Lauren Bortolotti. “Drought conditions and poor water management could nullify these benefits.”
This research reinforces the importance of collaboration between conservation and agricultural partners. The regional cooling effect of conserved wetlands could provide a valuable line of defence against heat-induced crop stress.
“The next step will be to also activate the crop module in the climate model that can represent dynamic crop growth. It is important to study the interactions between wetlands and surrounding croplands, and its on-farm benefit to moisten and cool the environment, especially for drought and heat conditions in late summers,” says Dr. Yanping Li, Associate Professor at the Global Institute for Water Security in USask.
DUC and its team of world-leading scientists are continuing to investigate the cooling capabilities of wetlands as well as other climate mitigation benefits provided by these ecosystems. Results of future research will provide the necessary data for governments, industry, landowners and others to make informed land management decisions, including nature-based climate solutions, while informing DUC’s on-the-ground conservation work to ensure the best outcomes for people and wildlife.
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC uses sound science and partners with government, industry, non-profit organizations, Indigenous Peoples and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. To learn more about DUC’s innovative environmental solutions and services, visit www.ducks.ca
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