Carbon accumulation and storage across contrasting saltmarshes of Scotland

Lucy Miller, Craig Smeaton*, Handong Yang, William Austin

*Corresponding author for this work

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Saltmarshes are acknowledged to be “carbon hotspots” due to their capacity to trap and store large quantities of carbon (C) within their soils and potentially have the ability to regulate climate over different timescales. In-turn governments and international organizations are now recognizing the need to include these intertidal ecosystems in national and global C accounting. Yet, in many regions, estimates of organic carbon (OC) storage and the rate at which OC is buried in saltmarsh soils either do not exist or at not at the scale necessary for inclusion in national C budgets. Here we bring together tools from across the geosciences to investigate the quantity of OC held within the soil and above/belowground biomass alongside estimates of the rate at which OC accumulates and the source of the OC within the soils of four contrasting Scottish saltmarshes. Using radiometric dating techniques it is estimated that OC accumulates at a rate of between 29.1 and 198.1 g C m⁻² yr⁻¹ across the different study sites. In contrast, the source of the OC varies little across the sites with 73%–99% of the OC within the saltmarsh soil originating from terrestrial/in situ sources; marine-derived OC plays a minor role in the development of the saltmarsh OC stocks. Using average values derived from the four sites it is possible to make first-order estimates of saltmarsh OC stocks and accumulation rates for all Scotland's 240 mapped saltmarshes. It is estimated that across Scotland saltmarsh habitat stores 1.15 ± 0.21 Mt OC which is supplemented by an additional 4385 ± 481 tonnes of OC each year.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108223
Number of pages15
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date26 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2023


  • Carbon
  • Wetlands
  • Coastal
  • Soil
  • Belowground
  • Aboveground
  • Scotland
  • Saltmarsh
  • Salt marsh
  • Organic carbon
  • Roots
  • Vegetation
  • Burial
  • Storage
  • Stock
  • 210-Pb geochronology
  • 137Cs
  • Dating
  • Chronology


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