Digital Coast Program Gets “Blue Carbon” Added to U.S. Emissions Inventory

The Takeaway: In a global first, NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management ensures that the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems is being counted, aiding U.S. conservation efforts, greenhouse gas cuts, and “blue carbon” market trading.

The U.S. was the first nation to include “blue carbon”—that is, the carbon captured and held in coastal seagrasses, mangroves, and salt marshes—in its national greenhouse gas emissions inventory. This addition means that conservation and restoration partners can provide authoritative numbers on the carbon-storing capacity of their coastal projects—and potentially make a profit, too, through carbon-trading financial markets. Credit for the inventory addition goes to NOAA’s land cover program, which has documented coastal land cover data and change over more than three decades.

NOAA's foundational work documenting blue carbon has informed the efforts of many nations to develop blue carbon inventories. NOAA’s work has also catalyzed funding of blue carbon-related initiatives by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, and NASA.

The amount of carbon stored in an average year by the coastal wetlands of the continental U.S. is an estimated eight million metric tons, which is equal to the carbon emitted in the same period by 1.7 million passenger cars and trucks. This is a formidable resource on the global carbon market, which balances projects that feature emissions with contributions that take carbon out of the atmosphere.

NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserves and their partners have long focused on the conservation and hazard-mitigation pluses of blue carbon financial markets by producing a guide, research on salt marsh carbon storage, workshops, lesson plans, outreach, and technical assistance. NOAA’s land cover program has started to produce more detailed state wetland maps that will aid the research reserves in their blue carbon mission.

The national emissions inventory is prepared yearly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a popular resource for scientists, policy makers, businesses, regulators, and the public. Users consult the inventory to develop atmospheric models, understand emission trends, track allowable emission rates for industries, and keep current on emission-reduction strategies. (2020)

More Information: C-CAP Land Cover Data Page

Partners: NOAA Digital Coast, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency