The swamps aren’t foul at all. This is a complex ecosystem, which is also very important for the global ecology’s well-being.
Swamps against the greenhouse effect
Swamps fight the greenhouse effect much more effectively than any other ecosystem on the planet. They absorb about 10 times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the forest! Moreover, rainforests sometimes produce more CO2 than oxygen. This is due to the decomposition processes going on there, as well as the oxygen consumption of the animals living in them.
Source of water
Scientists have estimated that swamps contain about 2750 cubic miles (11.500 km3) of fresh water, which is about 5 times more than all the rivers of the Earth combined! However, lakes have even more. Lake Baikal alone in Russia contains ~5650 cubic miles (23.600 km3) of fresh water.
The largest swamps
Pantanal is the largest swamp in the world. It’s located in South America, mostly on Brazilian land. Well, technically Pantanal isn’t one giant swamp, that’s the world’s largest wetland area with lots of swamps. It covers an area of 54,000-75,000 sq miles (140k-195k sq km) which is 2.5 times larger than the area of Ireland. The largest swamp in the northern hemisphere are Vasyugan swamp in Russia, it occupies 20ю500 sq miles (53k sq km) and contains about 800k small lakes in it.
Facts about the swamp water
People usually think that the swamp water is dirty and foul. That’s not true! Sometimes it’s even purer than the lake water. This is because it is completely renewed as a result of circulation in an average of 17 years in lakes, and in just 5 in swamps.
How do swamps originate?
Swamps can arise in two different ways: either due to the overgrowth of lakes, ponds, and other reservoirs or due to waterlogging of soil. Interesting fact: there are so many of them in the tundra biome because of the waterlogging.
Lakes turn into swamps
The life span of lakes usually ranges from 10 to 50 thousand years. After that, they become overgrown with plants and turn into swamps. However, large lakes can exist for millions of years! For example, the age of Baikal is 25-35 million years. This process can work backward, lakes also can arise in large swamps.
Source of peat
There is peat in all the marshes (well, marshes and swamps are technically different things but they are very similar anyway). It’s a valuable natural resource used for thermal insulation and as fuel. Moss is the main “ingredient” for the formation of peat. Usually, wetlands are considered a swamp if the thickness of the peat layer in them reaches 1 foot (~30 cm).
Are swamps dangerous?
In many swamps, it is almost impossible to drown because of their shallow depth. However, it is often impossible to get out of the quagmire on your own without someone’s help. Thus, marshes are very dangerous, as a person can get stuck in a quagmire and die of hunger and thirst.
Sometimes you can see wandering lights in the marshlands. Those are will-o’-the-wisps that are still almost unexplored. Usually, they have a spherical shape and resemble balls of light. Also, they can move! Will-o’-the-wisps are the reason for the appearance of many superstitions. The most popular theories explain them either by bioluminescence (the glow of living organisms) or by spontaneous combustion of marsh gases when they come to the surface and come into contact with air.
Benefits of the swamps
Despite the obvious danger that swamps pose to humans, they have been visited by people since ancient times. Not only mushrooms and berries grow on them, but also numerous medicinal herbs used in traditional medicine.
Underground fires in the marshlands
Sometimes underground fires happen in the swamps. They arise due to the fact that peat is a powerful thermal insulation material, it heats up to the temperature of combustion. Unfortunately, that’s impossible to extinguish such underground fires. They subside only when they are extinguished by groundwater – after heavy rains, for example.
Drainage of swamps
Drainage of swamps is still practiced in some countries in order to obtain land suitable for construction and improve the climate. However, this causes huge damage to the ecosystem of large regions. Hundreds of species of insects and animals are disappearing, and rivers flowing from them and lakes fed by them are drying up.
Swamps in the US
Swamps can be found on all continents except Antarctica. In the US, they cover about 100.000 sq miles (260.000 sq km). The largest swamp in America is Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana. It is a combination of river delta area and wetlands. From time to time, portions of the Atchafalaya Basin are drained to minimize the amount of vegetation that grows there. If the aquatic vegetation is not controlled, it can create issues for fish in the Atchafalaya Basin, creating a strain on the basin’s ecosystem.
Swamp is a perfect preserving agent
The swamp environment is an almost ideal preservative that slows down the decomposition processes by thousands of times. Sometimes people find the bodies of people and animals that got into a swamp hundreds or thousands of years ago, and they look like they died just yesterday. The age of the oldest of the swamp mummies is estimated at about 8 thousand years!
Swamps can be saltwater and freshwater. Freshwater ones usually form near large rivers or lakes, or in areas with high humidity levels. Saltwater swamps are found only along coastlines in tropical and subtropical climate zones.