SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences, Volume 60, Issue 5: 809-820(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-016-9010-9

Processes of coastal ecosystem carbon sequestration and approaches for increasing carbon sink

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  • ReceivedNov 17, 2016
  • AcceptedFeb 6, 2017
  • PublishedMar 16, 2017


The oceans are the largest carbon pools on Earth, and play the role of a “buffer” in climate change. Blue carbon, the carbon (mainly organic carbon) captured by marine ecosystems, is one of the important mechanisms of marine carbon storage. Blue carbon was initially recognized only in the form of visible coastal plant carbon sequestration. In fact, microorganisms (phytoplankton, bacteria, archaea, viruses, and protozoa), which did not receive much attention in the past, account for more than 90% of the total marine biomass and are the main contributors to blue carbon. Chinese coastal seas, equivalent to 1/3 of China’s total land area, have a huge carbon sink potential needing urgently research and development. In this paper, we focus on the processes and mechanisms of coastal ocean’s carbon sequestration and the approaches for increasing that sequestration. We discuss the structures of coastal ecosystems, the processes of carbon cycle, and the mechanisms of carbon sequestration. Using the evolution of coastal ocean’s carbon sinks in sedimentary records over geologic times, we also discuss the possible effects of natural processes and anthropogenic activities on marine carbon sinks. Finally, we discuss the prospect of using carbon sequestration engineering for increasing coastal ocean’s carbon storage capacity.

Funded by

National Key Research Programs(2013CB955700 ,&, 2016YFA0601400,the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41422603,41676125,91428308)

National Programme on Global Change and Air-Sea Interaction(GASI-03-01-02-03)


We thank Xie Xiabing for her assistance with the figures and references, the members in the program “Processes and Approaches of Coastal Ecosystem Carbon Sequestration” for their assistance, and Dr. Yu Zuojun for her assistance with English. This work was supported by the National Key Research Programs (Grant Nos. 2013CB955700 & 2016YFA0601400), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41422603, 41676125 and 91428308), and the National Programme on Global Change and Air-Sea Interaction (Grant No. GASI-03-01-02-03).


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  • Figure 1

    Schematic diagram of the main processes mediating transformation of POM to DOM and influencing POM sinking and recalcitrant DOM (RDOM) production. PA: particle-associated; FL: free-living; POM: particulate organic matter; DOM: dissolved organic matter; RDOM: refractory DOM. Disaggregation processes of POM significantly contribute to carbon sequestration by the ocean through the microbial carbon pump.

  • Figure 2

    Distribution of organic carbon in the oceans. After Hedges (2002).

  • Figure 3

    Geographical variations in ∆14Corg (‰) of surface sediments in the Chinese marginal seas (not including the South China Sea). Reproduced with permission from ref. (Bao et al., 2016), © 2016 The Geological Society of America.

  • Figure 4

    The fractional contributions of organic carbon from modern, pre-aged soil and ancient fossil sources in surface sediments of the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea basin. The heights of bars shown at the bottom are set for 100%. Reproduced with permission from ref. (Tao et al., 2016), © 2016 Elsevier.

  • Figure 5

    Pictures of a Pneumatic Lifting Artificial Upwelling System during a test. (a) Release of the system; (b) artificial upwelling visible at the surface; (c) 1-m diameter upwelling pipe; and (d) 0.4-m diameter upwelling pipe.

  • Figure 6

    Scenario models for the effects of upwelling on ocean carbon sequestration (Jiao et al., 2014b). Red arrows indicate respiration flux; pink arrows indicate DIC release from the deep water. (a) BP is the prevailing mechanisms for carbon sequestration when diatoms are dominant during upwelling intensification period; (b) MCP is the prevailing mechanisms for carbon sequestration when upwelling is weak and phytoplankton blooming does not occur or picophytoplankton dominates the community; (c) a non-upwelling scenario for reference.

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