STATE OFFICIALS are in the process of initiating a restoration of the Ballona Wetlands. Research from the Ohio State University indicates restored wetlands can actively play a role in helping to offset certain effects of climate change. Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

The heat wave that is blistering the East Coast and baking the Midwest has called attention to the effects of climate change and its consequences. Some scientists and economists are predicting that repercussions of the drought taking place in many of the corn-producing states will be seen in food prices in the fall and winter months.

Climate change can also have an effect on wetlands, including those of the coastal variety like the Ballona Wetlands. Recent reports draw attention to the wetlands and what consequences climate change can bring to the ecological reserves’ multiple ecosystems.

There is also evidence that suggests that restored and refurbished wetlands can absorb some of the elements that create global warming.

Researchers at the Ohio State University believe the accumulation of carbon in the soil in restored wetlands could help offset some of the consequences of global warming.

Dr. William J. Mitsch, a distinguished professor in the university’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told a university publication a freshwater wetlands called Old Woman Creek in Huron, OH had accumulated approximately 140 grams of carbon per square meter per year.

“I can’t prove that with the 140 grams of carbon per year that my wetlands area sucking up the average temperature in the world is therefore going to be .001 degrees Celsius colder,” Mitsch told Ohio Sea Grant Communications. “But for the wetlands of the world, we have some calculations that suggest that carbon sequestration in wetlands on a global scale could be on the order of more than 10 percent of the carbon coming out of the smokestacks.”

Mitsch’s research coincides with the long-planned restoration of the Ballona Wetlands, a project that has been discussed for several years. The state-owned 600-acre ecological reserve south of Marina del Rey is one of the last remaining wetlands in the Los Angeles basin and is the subject of debate between differing opinions on how it should be restored.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D- Marina del Rey), whose district includes the Ballona Wetlands, sponsored a bill Feb. 14 to assist the state agency that will oversee that long-awaited restoration of the wetlands in combating global warming.

Senate Bill 1066 would authorize the California Coastal Conservancy to fund projects that involve addressing climate change and give the conservancy additional authority to allocate funds for initiatives to study and plan for global warming.

“Rising sea levels and storm-driven waves pose direct risks to the state’s coastal resources,” the senator said. “With the coastal economy contributing $46 billion annually to the state and with 80 percent of California’s 38 million residents living within 30 miles of the coast, we must take steps now to ensure the coastal economy and environment survives.”

Sea level rise is another potential impact to coastal wetlands. That was the principal finding in a report called the Climate Ready Estuaries that was recently conducted.

Dr. Guangyu Wang, deputy director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, who participated in the study, agrees with the report’s conclusion that potential consequences as a result of climate change to the Ballona Wetlands is a predicated rise in sea levels.

“It is the predominate factor that could happen in the wetlands (due to climate change),” Wang said. “We focused on the Ballona Wetlands because we wanted to make sure that the final (restoration) design takes into account climate change.”

The study, which was paid for by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, examined the potential climate change impacts to coastal systems and what can be done to address the effects of climate change in coastal systems should coastal resource managers focus their climate change efforts on adaptation.

The federal EPA program recommends coastal managers develop and implement adaptation measures in order to protect their ecosystems from increasing temperatures and sea rise.

The commission is assisting the Coastal Conservancy with baseline studies and water quality analysis.

On Jan. 19 the conservancy’s board approved approximately $6.25 million to the commission for hydrological analysis and scenic trail design in the 600-acre ecological reserve.

The funds came from Proposition 12, a state parks bond that was passed by voters as a ballot measure in 2000. It authorized $2.1 billion for various land and water quality programs.

Jeanne Christie, executive director of the New York-based Association of Wetland Managers, says her organization looks at the challenge of climate change and how it affects wetlands in two ways.

“It is a concern to us,” Christie said. “Climate change can alter the makeup of grasslands and wetlands and what should be done about it.”

Christie referenced the Ohio State research, noting that there have been “huge amounts of carbon” found in wetlands. “Protecting those carbon storages and not allowing them to be released into the atmosphere is also a concern,” she added.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is also worried. In conjunction with the World Bank, the two entities produced a report last year that stated due to drainage and degradation, coastal wetlands could be a source of carbon dioxide that, once in the atmosphere, can be a contributor to global warming and lead to increased carbon sequestration.

Christie said analyzing properties such as Ballona are critical when examining the effects of climate change in some areas of nature.

“Coastal wetlands are extremely important because they are some of the first that have been looked at,” she explained. “They have enormous potential to store carbons and possibly mitigate sea level rise.”

Loyola Marymount University professor of engineering and environmental science Jeremy Pal assisted with the modeling study for the estuaries report that Wang cited. Pal was one of the contributing authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international collaboration of scientists that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

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