People using TERN: John Hunt

New Zealand’s Landcare Research has installed equipment on dairy farms to measure carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy exchanges (fluxes) between the atmosphere and the pasture. This flux measuring equipment includes automatic soil respiration chambers (above) and ‘mini’ flux towers (below) similar to those used by TERN’s OzFlux. The results from measurements like these indicate that intensive dairy farming can sequester significant amounts of carbon into the soil. 

A senior scientist from New Zealand’s Landcare Research is learning and leveraging from TERN to streamline the measurement of changes in soil carbon in New Zealand’s managed landscapes

Both Australia and New Zealand have greenhouse gas emissions profiles that are quite uncommon in the developed word. Unlike most developed nations, contributions from primary industries top the contributing sector list in NZ and are second in Australia.

John Hunt of Landcare Research, a Crown Research Institute based in Lincoln New Zealand, has been studying his country’s greenhouse gas profile and specifically the contributions from agriculture and says that ‘New Zealand has a strange greenhouse gas profile which is dominated by agricultural emissions.’

To further understand the carbon contributions of NZ’s agriculture sector John has been studying the carbon fluxes on dairy farms.  The findings of John’s studies suggest that dairy farms can be significant carbon sinks and not just sources, which is commonly reported.

‘At the two dairy sites we studied, one on irrigated, stony soils and the other on a deep loamy soil, we found that intensive dairy farming can sequester carbon into the soil,’ says John.

Increased pasture production captures carbon and transfers it into the soil where it is stored and can significantly offset CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

John’s findings can then be compared to long–term measurements of soil carbon and used to inform models, which can provide future predictions on carbon stocks – required under international agreements, such as the Kyoto protocol. Not only will this research be useful for modelling future carbon trends, John is also using the measurements to test the effects of strategies that aim to increase the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil on dairy farms.

‘By testing the effectiveness of current agricultural carbon sequestration strategies we can then work with land managers and policy makers to come up with efficient solutions to questions regarding emissions and other environmental issues such as water quality,’ says John.

The findings and flow-on management impacts of John’s research wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of KiwiFlux – New Zealand’s equivalent of TERN’s OzFlux.  KiwiFlux, of which John is a member of, is a relatively new association of researchers in New Zealand studying carbon and water fluxes at an ecosystem scale. They study fluxes at large range of ecosystems including: natural landscapes, such as mangroves and bogs; managed landscapes, such as dairy farming, cropping, dry-land pasture; and urban landscapes.

Being a relatively new research network, KiwiFlux looks to TERN’s OzFlux for guidance, collaboration and linkages.  The two flux networks share instruments and ideas, and keep each other informed about conferences, meetings and scientific papers.

‘We have developed close ties with the researchers in OzFlux and have appreciated their support and encouragement,’ says John.

‘TERN and specifically OzFlux have been a shining example to us of what can be done to integrate large data bases of ecologically important information over a whole diverse county.

‘We intend to use the processing tools developed by OzFlux to apply to our data and are in regular contact with our Australian colleagues,’ says John.

By streamlining the measurement of carbon and water fluxes and the integration and processing of the resultant data, research for land management organisations like John’s will become significantly easier more resource efficient, which means that they’re more likely to produce meaningful outcomes for land managers.

John’s story is one of cross-ditch carbon cooperation.  Through collaboration, John, Landcare Research, KiwiFlux and OzFlux are working to produce useful research to create more sustainable and profitable agricultural industries in New Zealand, and here in Australia.  We are looking forward to reporting on more positive outcomes in future editions of the TERN eNewsletter as our collaborations continue.

The international collaborations between New Zealand’s KiwiFlux and Australia’s OzFlux are not one of a kind here at TERN.  TERN has strong connections with analogous organisations across the globe including Europe’s AnaEE (Infrastructure for Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems), FluxNet (a global network affiliated with NASA’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Centre), DataONE in the US, the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, and the Korea Long-Term Ecological Research Network. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in the United States.

Published in TERN newsletter November 2014

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