Teabags to aid battle against climate change

Enabling a sustainable World

Scientists are calling on citizen scientists around the world and the humble teabag in the battle against climate change.

A team from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab has launched a new project that will use Lipton tea bags as a tool to measure how well global wetlands are storing carbon.

According to Lab Director Dr Peter Macreadie, by monitoring how quickly the tea bags decompose, scientists will be able to determine the carbon-sink capacity of wetlands around the world. Dr Macreadie is a senior lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology.

“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 teabag stays relatively intact it means the wetland is a nice stable environment perfect for storing carbon,” Dr Macreadie said.

The team hopes to engage climate change researchers, NGOs, citizen scientists and environmental groups across the world to bury a Lipton teabag at their local wetlands. Project coordinator and Blue Carbon Lab member, Dr Stacey Trevathan-Tackett said that the project has already received spectacular attention since it was announced in early February.

“We have had wide media interest and about 120 enquiries from around the world, including from many research and citizen scientists. People have already officially signed up from the USA, Mexico, Puerto Rico, UK, Europe and Australia,” she said.

“For citizen scientists, we are working to find leaders or CitSci groups to help coordinate the projects (supplies, fieldwork etc).”

Dr Macreadie said that inland wetlands, coastal marshes, mangroves and seagrass meadows are some of the most effective carbon sinks, removing atmospheric CO2 and locking it away in the ground more than twice as effectively as the world’s rainforests.

“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,” he said.

“Certain teabags have a uniform decomposition rate within wetlands, allowing scientists to easily study variability in rates of carbon breakdown – a critical determinant of the carbon-sink capacity of an ecosystem.”

“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 teabag test will provide a simple solution.”

Coordinating the burial and retrieval of 50,000 teabags may not seem like such a simple task, but the team is confident it can be done.

“We’ve prepared care packs that we’ll be sending all around the world that contain teabags and all the information required to install and monitor the teabag decomposition”
Dr Stacey Trevathan-Tackett Project Coordinator

The project is an extension of a global initiative that started on land – called TeaComposition – which has run successfully in all continents except Antarctica.

“The difference is that we’re extending the project to aquatic ecosystems, which contain some of the world’s most efficient carbon sequestering ecosystems, making it ‘TeaComposition H2O’,” Dr Trevathan-Tackett said.

“TeaComposition H2O will be tracking the decomposition rate and the changes to carbon levels during two years of teabag decomposition in order to understand how different ecosystems, temperatures, climates and soil types influence carbon cycling.

“We’ve been lucky to get Lipton on board as a supporter of the project, they will be providing the teabags, but we’re hoping to secure further funding so we can run the project for the full two years and spread the teabags to as many countries as possible.”

Once the data is gathered, Dr Macreadie and Dr Trevathan-Tackett are hoping that they will be able to confidently compare global CO2 emissions from wetlands around the world.

 

Centre for Integrative Ecology

At the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), we want to know: how do living things react to change, both short term and long term? We aim to eliminate traditional borders between conventional fields of ecological research by promoting an integrative, multi-faceted, interdisciplinary research approach