Research student profile: Robert Pallasser

Project title

Improving the auditability of soil carbon.

Project overview

The project sets out to develop a method to measure soil carbon which can be used in the mapping of agricultural soils and could later form a basis for any carbon trading scheme related to this sector. Benefits that accrue from increasing the amounts of carbon stored in soils include the reduction of atmospheric CO2, a major greenhouse gas, as well as improving soil condition and therefore fertility.

Thus far, soil carbon data has been determined for many sites worldwide and on different fractions using a range of analytical techniques. These have yielded interesting results in terms of soil processes however, such analytical methods are time consuming and therefore costly in view of the sample numbers required to obtain coverage. Because soil carbon is highly variable from place to place, the challenge is to develop a reliable method, applicable universally, to quantify large areas in the most cost effective way.

The work will involve the development and comparison of some novel soil carbon analytical techniques alongside classical methods. Rather than just determining carbon for certain size fractions, gas analysis at various stages will be used to quantify the amounts of carbon present in soil probe samples. Indirect methods will also be tested for their use over broad areas, all of which can provide some kind of cost / accuracy assessment.

The research should enable fast and accurate soil carbon analyses and also lead to an increased understanding of the various forms of carbon and their relative residence times. An important goal will be the capacity to estimate with some confidence, from a fixed set of data, the contribution of an entire parcel of agricultural land. Different farming practices can then be assessed in terms of their effectiveness on long term soil carbon management.


I have always resided in Sydney and regional NSW and have a strong association with this part of the world. After studying science and completing my Bachelor's at UTS, I worked in the resources sector and then in geochemical research at the CSIRO Divisions of Exploration Geoscience and Petroleum Resources. Major interests became the analysis of soil gases and the application of stable carbon isotopes in characterising degradation processes. Other areas included the typing of natural gas reserves and tracing pathways in various systems. Earlier experience in the farming sector has further strengthened my enthusiasm for the project being undertaken.

The project I am working on is funded by ARC Linkage in collaboration with Environmental Earth Sciences and a scholarship is being provided by Australian Postgraduate Award - Industry.


  • Pallasser R.J. and Alder D. 2000. Greenhouse gas emissions from the Great Artesian Basin within New South Wales: Potential for reducing the atmospheric carbon budget. In: Proceedings 5th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas
    Control Technologies, pp. 691-696, Cairns, 13-16 August 2000.
  • Pallasser R. Distinguishing biodegraded and normally matured petroleum accumulations using the δ13C of gas components. 19th International meeting on Organic Geochemistry, Istanbul September, 1999.
  • Smith J.W., Pallasser R. and Pang L. 1998. Thermal reactions of acetic acid - 13C/12C partitioning between CO2 and CH4. Organic Geochemistry 29, 79-82.
  • Pallasser R. 1996. Assessment of hydrocarbon gases from artesian beds and other sources in NSW. APCRC Unrestricted Report No. 010, 43p. (submitted to DPI).
    Pang L.S.K., Wilson M.A., Pallasser R. and Prochaska L. 1995. Isotope Effects in Plasma Arcing Experiments with Various Carbon Anodes. Energy and Fuels 9, 704-706.
  • Rigby D., Pallasser R., Hamilton J. and Marvig P. 1992. Isotope and Geochemical Studies of Soil Gases in ATP267. CSIRO Restricted Investigation Report 286R, 76p.



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