Storms, Tsunamis, Coastal Wetlands, and Carbon

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

I was struck last week by two reports linking coastal habitat with storm and tsunami protection.

A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Influence of coastal vegetation on the 2004 tsunami wave impact in west Aceh” demonstrates that coastal vegetation in front of settlements would have reduced the death toll of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami by 5% in the west coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Following the tsunami, public debate was critical of the earlier clearing of protective mangroves and suggested tree planting could reduce future risk of loss of life and physical damage from tsunamis. The study provides support for these claims.

Similarly, a new paper by the World Bank, “The impact of climate change on hurricane damages in the United States,” found an expected increase in hurricane damages of $40 billion due to climate change by 2100. The report finds that more than 85 percent of the additional impacts are in Florida and the Gulf states, and that the 10 percent most damaging storms will cause 93 percent of expected damage.

Coastal blue carbon is a tool that we can use to protect existing wetlands, such as mangroves and salt marsh, which can reduce the impacts of storms and tsunamis. Moreover, restoring degraded coastal wetlands can bring back a measure of protection as well.

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