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Methane in Australian agriculture: current emissions, sources and sinks, and potential mitigation strategies

Finn, Damien, Dalal, Ram, Klieve, Athol
Crop & pasture science 2015 v.66 no.1 pp. 1-22
agricultural soils, anthropogenic activities, biodiversity, biomass, burning, carbon dioxide, emissions, environmental factors, global warming, grazing, greenhouse gases, livestock, methane, methane production, microorganisms, pastures, temperature, weather, Australia
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential ~28 times that of carbon dioxide. Consequently, sources and sinks that influence the concentration of methane in the atmosphere are of great interest. In Australia, agriculture is the primary source of anthropogenic methane emissions (60.4% of national emissions, or 3260kt-1methaneyear-1, between 1990 and 2011), and cropping and grazing soils represent Australia’s largest potential terrestrial methane sink. As of 2011, the expansion of agricultural soils, which are ~70% less efficient at consuming methane than undisturbed soils, to 59% of Australia’s land mass (456Mha) and increasing livestock densities in northern Australia suggest negative implications for national methane flux. Plant biomass burning does not appear to have long-term negative effects on methane flux unless soils are converted for agricultural purposes. Rice cultivation contributes marginally to national methane emissions and this fluctuates depending on water availability. Significant available research into biological, geochemical and agronomic factors has been pertinent for developing effective methane mitigation strategies. We discuss methane-flux feedback mechanisms in relation to climate change drivers such as temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations, precipitation and extreme weather events. Future research should focus on quantifying the role of Australian cropping and grazing soils as methane sinks in the national methane budget, linking biodiversity and activity of methane-cycling microbes to environmental factors, and quantifying how a combination of climate change drivers will affect total methane flux in these systems.