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The challenge

Estimating carbon

Currently, our estimates of coastal carbon stocks around Australia are limited, along with a poor understanding of the processes responsible for sequestering the carbon.

In a carbon economy, we need to be confident in our ability to estimate carbon sources, sinks and their rates of change. CSIRO is the world leader in biogeochemical modelling.

Terrestrial forest soils can become carbon-saturated relatively quickly and the stored carbon can be released in forest fires, whereas 'blue carbon' is maintained for thousands of years. A view across the channel to Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland.

As Australia moves towards a low carbon economy, the development of robust quantitative models is necessary to underpin mitigation strategies.

Wetland vegetation (seagrass, mangroves, saltmarsh) occupy only two per cent of the world's seabed area, but are responsible for 50 per cent of the carbon transfer to ocean sediments.

As this carbon can remain stored for millennia, there is great interest in the concept of blue carbon — atmospheric carbon that is captured and stored (sequestered) by marine environments.

The destruction of coastal wetlands can lead to decreased storage potential of carbon and subsequent increases the threat of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our response

Clustering expertise

The CSIRO Coastal Carbon Cluster aims to improve methods in estimating how much carbon is stored in coastal areas.

The Cluster will collate the limited existing Australian coastal carbon data as well as deliver new data to enhance CSIRO's modelling capacity to predict national coastal carbon budgets.

The Coastal Carbon Cluster will accelerate the development and delivery of data streams based on its biogeochemical and ecological models as well as enhancing our ocean colour capability that can:

  • better evaluate and predict primary productivity and its importance to environmental and economic services
  • assess the implication of climate-induced changes on biogeochemical cycles, including ocean acidification
  • estimate sequestration rates including the application of blue carbon and other strategies for carbon burial.

The Coastal Carbon Cluster is comprised of four work packages:

  1. Carbon sequestration, stoichiometry and stores potential of representative Australian coastal ecosystems;
  2. Benthic community metabolism and benthic-pelagic coupling;
  3. Pelagic community metabolism in Australian coastal waters; and 
  4. Scaling up to regional inventories and data assimilation, and parameter and model uncertainties.

Primary production is the production of organic compounds from atmospheric or aquatic carbon dioxide, principally through the process of photosynthesis. It is a key indicator of ecosystem health and carbon cycling and this can have a strong influence on the economic, social and physical health of the human population living in the coastal zone.

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in pH levels and increase in acidity of the Earth's oceans, caused by the uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Sequestration refers to stored carbon that is unlikely to be reintroduced to the atmosphere for more than 100 years.

Blue carbon is atmospheric carbon that is captured and sequestered by marine environments.

Cluster partners

The Coastal Carbon Cluster combines CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere with the research capabilities of:

  • Coastal Carbon Cluster Co-Leader, Professor Peter Ralph, University of Technology, Sydney
  • University of Technology, Sydney 
  • University of Western Australia 
  • University of Queensland 
  • Griffith University 
  • University of New South Wales 
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science 
  • Southern Cross University 
  • Edith Cowan University .

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