Research student profile: Ichsani Wheeler

Project title

The auditability of soil carbon at the farm scale.

Project overview

This research topic aims to devise an efficient method for analysing soil carbon and provide a scheme for measuring and monitoring of soil carbon storage at the farm scale.

The soil system represents a significant terrestrial carbon sink with potential to provide quantified and verifiable carbon offsets. An offset is required to be ‘acceptable’ for trading in a carbon economy to enable market confidence in the ascription of monetary value to soil carbon. Whilst there is building interest in the dynamics of the soil carbon sink, there are currently no efficient and economical ways to measure and monitor soil carbon storage on a farm with appropriate statistical confidence.

In development of this scheme a design-based approach will be employed to make the most of existing data sources from areas such as satellite imagery and remote sensing. Once these initial designs have been finalised, soil sampling will continue on an annual basis to refine the auditing system. The participating farms were selected to represent different production areas and techniques as well as differing soil types to ensure the applicability of the auditing system across agricultural sectors.

Such a scheme would enable the participation of the agricultural industry in the carbon economy as a supplier (and not just a buyer) of carbon credits. Enabling soil carbon to be traded as a viable carbon credit will contribute to the beneficial function of cap-and-trade systems; provide incentive and support for improved land management; as well as generating flow-on support and demand for research, training and development.

Placing a value on soil carbon in agriculture will also value, by proxy, associated ecosystem services. These services include: enhanced soil health, improved water holding capacity and runoff quality, greater biodiversity and increased resilience of the agricultural landscape. Such ecosystem services are currently substantially undervalued and concurrently under strain. A soil carbon auditing system offers one avenue where greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed through a pathway that also embodies multiple advantages.

Background

I was born in a remote part of North Queensland and was home schooled for most of my childhood so inevitably spent a lot of time running around in the bush! I later on finished my education at a regular school on the outskirts of Sydney. After enjoying my fair share of shenanigans it was time to go to uni and be a bit more serious. It wasn’t hard to decide what to study – I wanted to do environmental science but the subjects had to have a practical component with a pragmatic focus. Several years later I graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Land and Water Science (Hons I) and I couldn’t be happier with it. If I had my undergrad over I would do the same degree again.

I have been granted Henry Bertie and Florence Mabel Postgraduate Research Scholarship as well as the Christian Rowe Thornett top-up scholarship.

During my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to receive the ongoing support of a Commonwealth Education Costs Scholarship, as well as other one-off scholarships such as a Continuing Undergraduate Scholarship and a Dean’s Scholarship for Academic Excellence. I also achieved a place on the Dean’s List of Excellence in Academic Performance for the last three years of my undergraduate degree. As to the postgraduate degree – we’ll see, I just started in 2009.

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