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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.

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