A newly released study led by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) demonstrates that wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, which spans southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and areas of the United States, have the potential to cool the surrounding atmosphere by one to three degrees on summer days and reduce the number of hot days during heat waves.
The research reveals that wetlands cool the climate by altering surface energy balances - how much energy is available to evaporate water and to raise the temperature - and affecting the lower atmosphere in ways that promote cloud formation.
It also demonstrates that including wetlands in climate models improves model predictions about land surface temperature, evapotranspiration - how water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by soil evaporation and plant transpiration - and terrestrial water storage such as glaciers, snow, soil, groundwater, or wetlands.
"We are hopeful that continued research into the climate mitigating impacts of wetlands will influence decisions around land-use planning and reinforce the importance of these ecosystems in the minds of policy makers and regulators," said Mark Gloutney, national director of science for Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).
"While the magnitude of the cooling and reduction in hot days during a heatwave is notable, a key caveat of this study is that the benefit can only be realized when the wetlands aren't dry," said DUC research scientist Lauren Bortolotti.
"Drought conditions and poor water management could nullify these benefits."
"The next step will be to also activate the crop module in the climate model that can represent dynamic crop growth.
“It is important to study the interactions between wetlands and surrounding croplands, and its on-farm benefit to moisten and cool the environment, especially for drought and heat conditions in late summers," said Dr. Yanping Li, Associate Professor at the Global Institute for Water Security in the University of Saskatchewan.