We are thrilled that our scientist Dr Martino Malerba has received a DECRA Fellowship! This prestigious fellowship from the ARC will allow him to quantify the national carbon footprint of farm dams and develop low-cost strategies for ‘greener’ practices. He will explore the untapped potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from millions of Australian farm dams.
Australian farm dams have some of the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions among freshwater ecosystems. In Victoria alone, they release over 4,800 tonnes of CO2‐equivalent each day, which is 4.5% of all the State’s agricultural emissions. These recently discovered emissions are triggered by fertiliser and manure run-off that increase nutrients, creating the ideal conditions for the production of methane (CH4) – a gas with 34 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide.
Australian farm dams support AU$17.7B of irrigated agriculture and their contributions to climate change should be monitored, as recommended by IPCC guidelines. Yet, the Australian Government is unable to monitor farm dams due to their small sizes and remoteness, and hence tackle their GHG emissions. In this DECRA, Martino will quantify the cumulative carbon footprint of Australian farm dams and develop new management strategies to reduce these anthropogenic emissions.
This project will build on Martino’s work to create Ausdams.org, an interactive online platform that contains the size, location, and water capacity of 1,765,152 farm dams in Australia, 11.5% of which were previously undocumented. This is the first national census of Australian farm dams, completed in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. Using this information, Martino will quantify the GHG emissions from Australian farm dams to understand the environmental drivers of farm dam emissions and deliver a nation-wide assessment. These tools will quantify the contributions of farm dams to climate change at a continental scale, bringing Australia one step closer to meeting its international GHG reporting requirements.
With an understanding of the contributions of farm dams to climate change, Martino will also work to develop solutions to reduce their GHG emissions. He will work to develop a new design of floating wetland, which is a buoyant platform containing specialised plants that absorb nutrients and improve water quality via microbial biofilms in their roots. They are typically used for treating polluted aquatic systems, but they have never been tested as GHG reduction devices.
Martino’s work will develop and then deploy floating wetlands in farm dams around Victoria, monitoring their effects on carbon emissions, biodiversity, water temperature, and turbidity. He will also assess the economic feasibility of using floating wetlands in farm dams for carbon abatement. Providing guidelines for farm dam management will empower farmers to reduce their contributions to climate change. In the future, better farm dam management could reward landowners with carbon credits through the Australian $2B Climate Solutions Fund.
This research will put knowledge into action, offering new and economically feasible solutions to improve the sustainability of agricultural practices, and equipping farmers with the tools they need to reduce the carbon footprint of farm dams.
Read more about our research on farm dams.