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The challenge

Soil carbon measurement is costly and complex

Increasing the amount of carbon stored in agricultural soils can help mitigate rising greenhouse gas emissions and sustain agricultural productivity.

But measuring soil carbon can be costly and complex. Australia is a country of diverse soils and agricultural systems which makes it extremely difficult to produce the verification needed for carbon markets.

Our response

Keeping track of soil carbon

We developed the Soil Condition Analyses System (SCANS), which can be used to monitor soil organic carbon content, composition, bulk density and carbon stocks after changes in land use or management.

(a) The SCANS sensing systems at a field site; (b) An operator loading a soil core on the CSS; and (c) The core sensing system

SCANS is an automated proximal sensing system that consists of a combination of technologies. Together, they provide soil attribute information from extracted intact soil cores.

It includes a vis-NIR spectrometer, gamma densitometer and high-resolution RGB camera. These are complemented by a sophisticated hardware and measurement facility that efficiently and automatically captures data down the length of the soil core.

SCANS revolutionises soil measurement capabilities by making it possible to characterise soils in the field rather than through time-consuming processing and cost-intensive measurement in the laboratory.

To support SCANS there is a software suite to process data collected. This cross-matches the soil characteristics of the collected sample against CSIRO's national soil spectral libraries together with modelling capabilities.

The results

Keeping track of soil carbon

Using accurate estimates from SCANS in the modelling will enable landholders to more effectively assess the effects of different management practices on the accumulation and retention of soil organic carbon stocks. Farmers and other land managers can then better assess the economic implications of entering into a soil carbon accounting project and the level of risk in their decision making.

SCANS presents a good base for the development of an innovative, efficient, auditable and verifiable soil carbon trading methodology. We have been using SCANS for a comprehensive digital soil survey at our Boorowa Agricultural Research Station in NSW.

Our approach will allow landholders to effectively measure organic carbon stocks and related soil attributes, to detect changes and improve decision-making and management.

[CSIRO logo appears on screen.]

[Drone footage of research station] Text on screen: CSIRO Boorowa Agricultural Research Station digital soil survey and mapping.

[Footage of ploughing fields.] Text on screen: We wanted to gain a full picture of the soil condition at our research farm located outside the town of Boorowa, NSW.

[Scene of survey being conducted with a sled being towed behind a farm buggy.] Text on screen: We conducted a comprehensive digital soil survey using on-the-go proximal sensing.

[Close-up of the buggy and equipment in a field.] Text on screen: The process involved collecting digital terrain, electromagnetic induction, and gamma radiometrics information.

[Footage of soil core samples being collected.] Text on screen: Our proximal sensing map outputs informed the creation of an optimised soil sampling design for our research farm.

[Drone shot of soil cores being collected.] Text on screen: We used soil spectroscopic sensing combined with soil laboratory analysis to analyse 300 soil cores taken from the research farm.

[Scene of a researcher analysing soil cores.] Text on screen: Our automated soil core proximal sensing system SCANS enabled the characterisation of the soils in the field.

[Shot of a soil core sample undergoing scanning.] Text on screen: SCANS gathers spectral data down the length of the core. The data collected enables the creation of digital soil maps.

[Maps of soil pH at different depths from samples.] Text on screen: Maps of soil pH inform targeted lime application to combat subsoil acidity.

[Drone shot of fields at the research station.] Text on screen: The variation in soil properties support the continuous monitoring of soil moisture changes across BARS and across time.

[Timelapse maps of soil moisture levels.] Text on screen: They can tell us how much moisture there is that the crops can actually use.

[Further scenes of farm equipment working in a field.] Text on screen: Proximal sensors, and soil spectroscopy support effective sampling and mapping of soil condition.

[Overhead shot of fields on the property.] Text on screen: Our soil mapping work informs on-farm decision making and helps to verify continuous stewardship of natural capital.

[CSIRO logo appears on screen.] Text on screen: Australia’s National Science Agency.

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