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Carbon, water and soil

Tackling critical issues

Applying the best scientific research to develop effective rural land management policy

The Carbon, water, and soil (#sia_cws) theme conduct basic and applied research to tackle important global issues: In the face of climate change, how can we produce more food and fibre while sustainably managing water and soil?

We confront this important issues by conducting basic and applied research that improve our understanding on the causes and controls of soil distribution, the cycling of water, carbon and nutrients in plant and soil, and manipulating the transfer of energy through the soil-plant-atmosphere system. Our work has created changes in practice, from global and national digital soil mapping to landscape-scale carbon, water, and soil management, precision agriculture and contaminated-site assessment.

Overall we aim to connect soil, water, carbon, climate, agriculture, the economy and the society based on the best scientific evidence and that serve to balance needs for food production, carbon sequestration, ecosystem services, and farmers profitability.

The research aims to uncover the mechanisms that drive the exchange of carbon, water, and energy between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere. We aim to untangle the effects of changing climates on agricultural productivity. We investigate how plant and microbes interact and affect carbon and nutrient cycling to help create farming and land management strategies that will produce high-quality agricultural products. This includes biogeochemistry and plant ecophysiology.

Specific research topics include:

  • Soil carbon auditing protocol that enables the farmer to gain carbon credit confidently.
  • Microbial controls over soil carbon stabilisation with drought.
  • Impact of pasture management, grazing, and climate on greenhouse gas emissions

Recent publications:

  • Minasny, B., Malone, B.P., Mcbratney, A.B., Angers, D.A., Arrouays, D., Chambers, A., Chaplot, V., Chen, Z.S., Cheng, K., Das, B.S. and Field, D.J., 2017. Soil carbon 4 per mille. Geoderma, 292, pp.59-86.
  • Canarini A, L Pødenphant Kiær, FA Dijkstra. 2017. Soil carbon loss regulated by drought intensity and available substrate: a meta-analysis. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 112: 90-99.
  • Dwivedi D., W.J. Riley, Torn M.S., N. Spycer, F. Maggi, and J.Y. Tang, (2017), Mineral properties, microbes, transport, and plant-input profiles control vertical distribution and age of soil carbon stocks, SBB, Soil Biology & Biochemistry 107, 244-259,
  • Ingram, L.J. and M.A. Adams. 2017. Does season and grazing influence the δ13C and δ15N of C4 native grasses in semi-arid rangelands of the Pilbara region of NW Australia? Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 236: 277-284.

We tackle the most important limiting factor in Australian agricultural production systems: water by improving crop water use efficiency through manipulation of plant’s CO2  uptake and root traits, investigating the controls of landscape hydrological cycle, and improved seasonal weather forecasting. Our modelling work enhances water management through better models and better data analysis.

Specific research topics include:

  • Forecasting and nowcasting soil water for agricultural farms
  • Identification of root traits for improved water use and efficiency in wheat.
  • The understanding hydrological model behaviour for better prediction and scenario analysis

Recent publications:

  • Huang, J., McBratney, A.B., Minasny, B. and Triantafilis, J., 2017. Monitoring and modelling soil water dynamics using electromagnetic conductivity imaging and the ensemble Kalman filter. Geoderma, 285, pp.76-93.
  • Bakhshandeh S, MA Kertesz, PE Corneo, FA Dijkstra. Dual-labeling with 15N and H218O to investigate water and N uptake of wheat under different water regimes. Plant and Soil, 408: 429-441.
  • Kundu D, Vervoort RW, van Ogtrop FF (2017) The value of remotely sensed surface soil moisture for model calibration using SWAT. Hydrological Processes 31, 2764–2780.

Our soil research is one of the strongest university-based research groups in Australia. We lead soil resource assessment globally, by revolutionising the availability of accurate soil information which led to improved agricultural practices with reduced environmental impacts and enhances the security of the world’s soil. Sydney soil science developed the concept of digital soil mapping, proximal soil sensing, and soil security.  The research also focuses on cutting-edge fundamental science, including the understanding of soil organic matter and mineral interaction maximise carbon sequestration in soil.

Specific research topics include:

  • Proximal soil sensing with emerging technologies to be able to predict soil properties accurately everywhere and anywhere
  • Digital soil mapping that enables using big data analytic to accurately predicting soil conditions that to inform better decision making.
  • Discover how soil and the environment drives soil microbial diversity, and how soil microbes affect soil function
  • Role of aeolian dust in soil formation and alteration, and the environmental effects of dust emission and deposition
  • Biochar properties and interaction in soils
  • Rapid assessment, delineation, and remediation of contaminated soils.
  • The role of soils and management of greenhouse gases emission

Recent publications:

  • Fajardo, M.P., McBratney, A.B., Minasny, B., 2017. Measuring functional pedodiversity using spectroscopic information. Catena 152, 103-114.
  • La Cecilia D. and F. Maggi, (2018), Analysis of glyphosate degradation in a soil microcosm, Environmental Pollution 233, 201-207
  • Ingram, L.J., G.E. Schuman, T. Parkin, M. Mortenson. 2015. Trace gas fluxes from a Northern mixed-grass prairie interseeded with Alfalfa. Plant and Soil 386: 285-301.
  • McBratney, A., Field, D.J. and Koch, A., 2014. The dimensions of soil security. Geoderma, 213, pp.203-213.
  • Mia S, FA Dijkstra, B Singh. 2017. Aging induced changes in biochar’s functionality and adsorption behavior for phosphate and ammonium. Environmental Science and Technology, 51: 8359-8367.

Alex McBratney: the importance of studying soil

Soil, food, health: an interview with Alex McBratney

Professor Budiman Minasny

Carbon, water and soil Theme Leader

Open digital mapping for assessing carbon storage in tropical peatlands

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The University of Sydney win the 5th Australian Soil Judging Competition

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