Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Elkhorn Slough acquisitions help combat global warming

San Jose Mercury News: The need to protect coastal marshes, where great seabirds journey and tiny shellfish scurry, has focused largely on saving wildlife. This month's expansion of the Elkhorn Slough, however, highlights another reason to care for the wetlands: global warming.

Three properties added in recent weeks to the federally and state-managed preserve mean more land to soak up water, a key to preventing flooding and lessening the impacts of sea-level rise as the Earth's climate warms, environmentalists say. "The wetlands are not just for wildlife habitat, but serve the fundamental needs of humans," said Mark Silberstein, executive director of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.

The new properties, while expanding the 7,000-acre preserve by just 38 acres, serve as vital links to "connecting drainage bottoms", Silberstein says, which allows more water to percolate through the marshlands. In addition to nourishing plants and animals as well as the water supply, this means providing a buffer to warming. "It's becoming painfully clear that we have to take care of these things," Silberstein said.

The prospect of climate change has environmentalists pushing to restore and expand wetlands across the nation, perhaps most aggressively in low-lying parts of the Southeast most susceptible to flooding, but in California as well. In addition to moderating tides and absorbing runoff, wetlands have an uncanny ability to capture carbon in the atmosphere, says David Lewis, executive director of San Francisco's Save the Bay, which is working to restore the sloughs of the Golden Gate….

Aerial view of Moss Landing, Monterey County, California, USA. The Elkhorn slough runs the area and about 6 miles (8 km) inland. The huge Moss Landing Power Plant is visible at the center. US Army Corps of Engineers

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