Saltbush potential to mitigate carbon emissions

August 8, 2017

Cutting carbon: researchers examine potential for saltbush to mitigate emissions.

New research from Murdoch University has investigated the potential for farmers to use a native Australian shrub to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Two papers have estimated the amount of carbon that could be stored in farmland across Australia and the use of digital imagery to cheaply and quickly measure this carbon.

The first study was led by Murdoch researcher Lewis Walden and drew on a range of sites and data sets from collaborators across Australia, partly funded by the Australian Government’s “Filling the Research Gap” program.

“Around 5.7 million hectares of land in Australia is unsuitable for cropping and grazing due to salinity,” Walden said.

“Saltbush, which is resistant to drought and very tolerant of poor soil, is commonly planted by farmers to help to rehabilitate this land.

“This plant can be used as a source of feed for livestock but we were interested in finding out its potential to be used for carbon sequestration.”

The team worked on three sites in the Western Australian wheatbelt, along with two in South Australia and one in New South Wales, to gain an understanding of the potential of saltbush carbon sequestration for the agricultural industry.

Collaborators came from CSIRO, the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council and government departments in the three states.

The team worked to establish how much carbon is stored below the ground in the roots and soil and in the woody section of the plants above ground.

“The carbon in these systems is stored in the plants,” said Lewis. “Contrary to what we set out to test, there was no increase in soil carbon storage following saltbush establishment,”

In the second study, Murdoch researcher Ning Liu, with another set of collaborators, found that low level digital imagery from SpecTerra Services could be used to estimate carbon storage in saltbush.

“This offers a way of quickly and cheaply measuring carbon storage in saltbush. The advent of drones will provide even more accuracy,” Liu said.

Murdoch University’s incoming Dean of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Professor Richard Harper said that the results were very promising.

“The studies found that revegetation with saltbush presents an opportunity to sequester carbon on land that has marginal value for other uses,” he said.

“Profitable options for this land are very limited and emerging carbon markets may provide a way to remove atmospheric carbon and also to improve farm productivity.

“This will also not compete with food production by using productive land.

“It will also provide an option for semi-arid lands in other countries, where governments are scrambling to meet their Paris Climate Change Agreement targets.”

The papers can be found in Ecological Engineering and Remote Sensing.

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