Brittany Wilburn

Ph.D. Candidate, Drexel University

2021 Seneca Award

Biochar stability and carbon sequestration capacity across a salinity and plant community gradient in brackish marshes along the Tuckahoe River in New Jersey

“Coastal salt marshes are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, as they sequester a significant portion of the world’s soil carbon and act as biodiversity hotspots for flora and fauna. However, coastal wetlands are at severe risk of habitat loss and fragmentation due to significant increases in sea level rise (SLR) in recent years. As a result of the dramatic increases in SLR and the subsequent subsidence and loss in wetland carbon stock, efforts to enhance degraded wetlands are increasing. My doctoral research focuses on how a carbonaceous soil amendment, biochar, can be used to enhance carbon sequestration as well as wetland plant recolonization in restoration projects… I will investigate the physicochemical changes and effects of different biochar types on wetland plants and soils. To this end, I have four objectives for my research: 1) compare the effects of different biochar types in soils, 2) evaluate biochar’s effects on hydrophytes 3) evaluate biochar’s effects on greenhouse gas exchange, and 4) calculate the rate at which biochar degrades over time… Preliminary research has demonstrated that biochar may be used to achieve the desired soil properties and carbon sequestration capacity of wetland soils in a controlled setting; however, if biochar degrades quickly under field conditions, then biochar may not contribute to long-term carbon sequestration. Funding from The Wetland Foundation would allow me to determine if biochar will be viable long-term in wetland settings and will help inform future wetland restoration efforts.”