Led by Professor Richard Harper, the Alcoa Chair in Sustainable Water Management at the university, the team is investigating whether adding substances like clay to sandy soils will increase the amount of carbon that can be stored in the soil.
They hope this could become a new source of income for the region’s land owners if the legislation for the Carbon Farming Initiative passes the federal parliament, thus encouraging carbon emitters into finding new ways to deal with their emissions.
“The increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air is contributing to climate change. One way of tackling this issue is to put the carbon back where it belongs – in the soil,” said Professor Harper.
“We are investigating which substances increase carbon storage in the soil so that we can develop new options for farmers and land owners in the Peel region.
“It could be a fairly cheap and efficient way of tackling climate change and result in a range of other benefits.”
The $300,000 project has been funded by Alcoa and the Royalties for Regions Peel Region Grants Scheme, which contributed $133,350. Collaborations and contributions have also come from the Universities of Western Australia and Notre Dame, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the ChemCentre.
The study will also look at whether treating the soil in this way will reduce the amount of nutrients which flow out of the soil into estuaries.
Soil amendments are also known to reduce the amount of nutrients that move from farmed soils into waterways and estuaries. Increased nutrient retention and water storage in the soil will in turn lead to better water quality and boost plant productivity, said Professor Harper.
The first stage of the study is due to be completed in June. Professor Harper and his team will then assess whether such methods could become economically viable for the region, with the final report on the project due at the end of January 2012.