Australian Farm Dams
Australian Farm Dams
Farm dams are artificial ponds that are used in agriculture to secure water for irrigation, stock, and domestic purposes. But their unique properties make them a hotspot for methane (CH4) emissions – a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
First, farm dams are rich in nutrients from fertilizer or manure run-off. Second, their shallow nature promotes microbial respiration, (CO2) build-up, and ideal conditions for methanotrophic bacteria. Third, they warm up rapidly, boosting metabolic rates and bacterial accumulation.
We are currently leading interdisciplinary research across IT, Engineering, and Environmental Sciences to develop satellite tools to monitor Australia’s farm dams and their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of this project is to explore new management strategies and engage with stakeholders to discuss incentives for greener practices.
Farm dams are hard to monitor: too many, too small, and located in remote private properties. Improving current satellite methods is a necessary step to understanding the role of farm dams in the environment, with important economic and social benefits. The Blue Carbon Lab leads collaborations with Dept. Primary Industries and Regional Development, Dept. of Environment and Energy, and Deakin School of IT and Engineering to develop new tools to detect and monitor small water reservoirs. For example, we can use high-definition satellite images and deep-learning convolutional neural networks to analyse farm dam water surface, maximum surface area, surrounding catchment area, and vegetation type and cover (ref1, ref2).
We aim to maintain our database on an interactive website to engage farmers, stakeholders, and the general community on the importance of managing farm dams.
To facilitate sharing information with the Government, scientists, managers, and the local community, we developed AusDams.org: a free interactive portal to visualise the distribution of farm dams and generate statistics for any area of Australia.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions from reservoirs and natural ponds have been well studied, however, the GHG emissions of highly abundant, small‐scale (<0.01 km2) agricultural dams are still unknown. We measured the diffusive CO2 and CH4 flux of 77 small agricultural dams within south‐east Australia. Results showed:
This program is run by Dr Martino Malerba from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab.
The Australian Research Council funded this project through a DECRA fellowship awarded to Dr Malerba. Other partners include Corangamite Catchment Management Authority; Southern Cross University; Australian Govt – Dept. of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; Govt of Western Australia – Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Sustainability and Biosecurity; Australian National University and Sustainable Farms.