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Environment researchers share expertise

Later in the year ANSTO will be providing facilities and expertise to train representatives from the Asia-Pacific region in the use of radioactive and stable isotopes to measure changes in soil and water quality.

The training and access to facilities is only one part of a Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA) project recently funded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess and improve soil and water quality to minimise land degradation and enhance crop productivity.

“Australia is the lead country for this project and Dr Tim Ralph (below right), an environmental scientist from Macquarie University, is the lead country coordinator,” said Prof Henk Heijnis, leader of environmental research at ANSTO and coordinator of the previous soil erosion project. 

Tim Ralph

Ralph, who spent time at ANSTO as an Honours student and post graduate, has a background in analysing sediment movements that contribute to siltation in Australia wetlands.

“Soil and water quality is a global issue which involves a number of contributing factors that will be examined in research carried out by member countries including Australia,” said Heijnis.

“Key processes including soil loss and degradation, sediment dynamics, carbon and nutrient depletion, can impact soil and water quality,” said Heijnis.

Nuclear techniques that involve measurements of radioactive nuclides from the atmosphere and the stable isotopes are highly useful in acquiring information about changes in soil and water quality.

“We have considerable expertise in using these methods which complement the use of traditional techniques to study the environment, and Tim Ralph is an absolute treasure as a collaborator” said Heijnis.

Different isotopes provide information on specific characteristics of soil and water.

For example, isotopes of nitrogen and carbon are used to study soil fertility and carbon in agricultural catchments with significant soil conservation issues.

The project ensures that the tools needed to identify locally appropriate agricultural practices, soil and water quality and crop productivity are available to participating countries for long term sustainability.

Ralph is currently in Vienna attending and chairing the first meeting of member countries to launch the project and commence activities.

The project will also involve the establishment of a regional database of soil and water quality from specific sites in participating countries.

The data is expected to fill a critical gap regarding regional assessments of land degradation and approaches to soil conservation and management.

As with all RCA projects there is considerable emphasis on capability building in developing countries.

“We expect representatives from member countries to gain advanced skills in the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques and expertise in state of the art approaches to sampling, analysis and modelling for soil erosion and nutrient loss,” said Heijnis.

All RCA projects foster the development and maintenance of active research partnerships in the region.

The project will conclude in 2021.



EnvironmentWater isotopes