Scientists in Manitoba are using sophisticated technology to paint as concise a picture as possible of how much greenhouse gas emissions are being emitted from local wetlands, and of precisely where those emissions are coming from.
Since being founded in 1938, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has been working as a registered charity with the goal of conserving Canadian wetlands, which they say are critical for waterfowl, wildlife, people and the environment.
According to DUC, while wetlands are known for benefits like reducing flooding risks, purifying water, and storing carbon, they also contain bacteria that can release methane and carbon dioxide, and contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Since last year, DUC has been working on an ambitious project erecting what are known as “flux towers” in freshwater wetlands in Manitoba to measure and to compare as precisely as possible how much carbon dioxide and methane are being taken up and released from different wetlands.
But the technology does not come cheap, as Dr. Pascal Badiou, DUC’s lead researcher on the flux tower project, said the equipment alone for one flux tower can cost as much as $100,000, plus there are costs for installation and maintenance.
Badiou says the technology contained in the towers is expensive because it is highly sophisticated, and is giving researchers more accurate data on GHG emissions from wetlands than they have ever been able to collect previously.
“It is essentially a really sophisticated set of sensors on a tripod or scaffold, that uses lasers to measure greenhouse gas concentrations, but can measure at a very, very high frequency,” Badiou said. “This is technology that can measure greenhouse gas measurements in the air at a rate of 24 times per second.”
But, according to Badiou, while the towers measure concentrations of GHG emissions in the air, they also use separate technology to measure wind speeds and wind direction, which allows flux towers to help scientists determine more precisely than ever before where within wetlands that emissions are coming from, and what might be causing them.
The data measurements can be taken 24 hours a day and seven days a week during all four seasons, and the data they receive from the towers is run through equally sophisticated computer programs that help them to decipher what it means, Badiou said.
A big focus of the research is based on comparing emission levels detected at wetlands located on agricultural land, with levels found at wetlands where there is more natural vegetation.
DUC also says the research is being supported by many in the agriculture industry and in the beef industry in Canada, because they believe the results will help farmers and cattle ranchers find ways to reduce emissions, and run more sustainable operations.
“Agriculture uses a significant amount of land in western Canada, and our study will help inform how different agricultural practices can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Badiou said. “Scientific measurements are key in protecting and managing the remaining intact natural ecosystems found on these prairie farms.”
DUC says one of their most recently installed flux towers was set up at Oak Hammock Marsh, a large and restored prairie wetland north of Winnipeg, while additional towers are located on project sites in areas throughout southwestern Manitoba.
Badiou says data analyzed through the flux tower network, and DUC’s conclusions on what the data means can and will be used by organizations and by governments looking to create policy around wetland conservation, and looking to create wetland policies that protect water, but also minimize the impacts of climate change.
University of Toronto Scarborough professor Irena Creed said in a media release she believes the flux tower project is and will continue to be important because the data will be so concise.
“There’s an assumption that nature is storing carbon to a certain degree, but we need stronger evidence to truly know how effective these nature-based climate solutions are,” Creed said.
“Frankly, we’re running out of time to be able to act on climate change, and we need to be smart about what we do, and the types of climate solutions we invest in.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 28, 2023 at 17:41