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The tea bag is over 100 years old, and the brilliance of its design has allowed millions of people around the world to enjoy a cup of tea with minimal effort.
Now the simple tea bag is being put to another use. A team from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab is utilising Lipton tea bags to determine the capacity of our global wetlands to store carbon. The TeaComposition H2O project aims to help the world understand the importance of global wetlands, and to identify the aquatic ecosystems that have greater potential to store carbon.
Nature produces carbon and it also provides various sources for carbon storage. This is called carbon sequestration, an example of which is the world’s rainforests which have the ability to take carbon in, and pump oxygen out, helping to increase clean air and combat global warming.
According to Dr Peter Macreadie, Director at the Blue Carbon Lab and senior lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, our inland wetlands, coastal marshes, mangroves and seagrass meadows act as more efficient carbon sinks by being able to lock carbon into the ground more than twice as effectively as the rainforests.
Dr Macreadie explains that ‘some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic’.
‘We need to find out the best wetland environments for carbon sequestration so we know where we should invest our energy,’ Dr Macreadie says.
'Some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic.'
Dr Peter Macreadie,
Blue Carbon Lab, Deakin University
How can a tea bag help determine the ability of our wetlands to store carbon?
According to Dr Macreadie, by monitoring how quickly the tea bags decompose, scientists have been able to determine the carbon-sink capacity of wetlands around the world.
‘If the buried teabag is quickly munched up by microbes living within the wetlands we know it’s not an ideal spot, but if the tea bag stays relatively intact it means the wetland is a nice stable environment perfect for storing carbon,’ Dr Macredie says.
‘Scientists like us are on a quest to identify and map the world’s most important wetlands for carbon sequestration, but the challenge is finding a standard method that is cost-effective and easy to implement,’ Dr Macreadie explains.
Since its launch in 2016, the TeaComposition H2O project has so far deployed more than 19,000 tea bags across 350 coastal habitat sites around the world, in 35 countries.
The team from the Blue Carbon Lab hopes that the project will help scientists around the world to determine where our energy should be directed.
‘Right now we have different countries using a variety of ways to measure the carbon storage capabilities of their wetlands and coming up with results that are difficult to compare. We hope the tea bag test will provide a simple solution,’ Dr Macreadie says.
The project is calling upon all of us to participate in this vital undertaking. Dr Macreadie explains, ‘we hope that by encouraging professional and citizen scientists to contact us and spread the word about this project, other people will begin to understand the importance of wetlands to biodiversity, in carbon sequestration, and in mopping up pollution.’
All it takes to brew a cup of tea is hot water and a few minutes. With a little more effort, you could become part of the team at Blue Carbon Lab as it seeks to unlock how to best support the environment.
Interested in understanding the world’s marine environments? Consider studying environmental science at Deakin. Or, get involved in the Blue Carbon Lab’s vital TeaComposition H2O project.
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