A study was released on Monday that fjords from Alaska to Norway soak up potentially harmful carbon from the atmosphere, which makes the steep-sided inlets an unnoticed natural collaborator in counteracting man-made climate change.
Fjords take up only 0.1% in the biosphere’s ocean surface but it shockingly accounts to 11% of the natural carbon in plants, soil, and rocks, which get buried in sea deposits annually after being washed off the land by the river.
A U.S. team of scientists wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience that cliff-sided fjords, carved out by glaciers in consecutive ice ages rank “as one of the ocean’s major hotspots for organic carbon burial, based on mass of carbon buried per unit area.”
The discoveries widen the knowledge of people about how carbon, a fundamental building block for life on Earth could be recycled through nature and help fight man-made climate change. In its airborne form, carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is responsible for the worsening global warming.
Fjords are good in absorbing carbon dioxide because they are deep, accept heavy flows of carbon-rich water from rivers, and have still, oxygen-starved waters in which organic material sinks without being broken down by bacteria.
According to the study that observed fjords around the world in Nordic nations, Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Chile, New Zealand and Antarctica, fjords soak up approximately 18 million tons of carbon a year.
“Fjords have largely been ignored” as place where huge amounts of carbon kept, according to experts headed by Richard Smith at Global Aquatic Research LLC in New York State.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it to form roots, stems, trunks and leaves. When they die, carbon could either get buried in soils, eroded in rivers, or could be emitted back to the atmosphere as plant decays or burns.
It is important to understand the role of nature in absorbing carbon so that we can predict the effects of man-made greenhouse gases, emitted by fossil fuels in power plants, cars, homes and industrial units.
“Despite being small, fjords are mighty,” in absorbing carbon, Richard Keil of the University of Washington, who was not part of the study, wrote in a commentary in Nature Geoscience.
“Despite decades of effort, we still lack a full understanding of organic carbon burial,” he wrote.