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The techniques of Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) were developed during hands-on management of degraded farmland in the Upper Hunter Valley region of Australia. Early settlement of the continent by people with European cultural assumptions disrupted established interactions of water, soil, and plants resulting in lost fertility. Moreover, agricultural practices such as clearing, burning, ploughing, draining, and irrigation, have implications for global warming. Soils hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and three times as much as vegetation. But carbon in exposed soil oxidises, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. NSF is designed to restore ecosystem functions by re-coupling the carbon and water cycles.
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Int. J. Water, Vol.
Copyright © 2010 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles
by Natural Sequence Farming
Duane Norris*
Natural Sequence Farming Coordinator,
c/-Post Office Hardys Bay,
New South Wales 2257, Australia
E-mail: duane@nsfarming.com
*Corresponding author
Peter Andrews
Baramul Stud via Denman,
New South Wales 2328, Australia
E-mail: baramul@baramulstud.com.au
Abstract: The techniques of Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) were developed
during hands-on management of degraded farmland in the Upper Hunter Valley
region of Australia. Early settlement of the continent by people with European
cultural assumptions disrupted established interactions of water, soil, and plants
resulting in lost fertility. Moreover, agricultural practices such as clearing,
burning, ploughing, draining, and irrigation, have implications for global
warming. Soils hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and three times
as much as vegetation. But carbon in exposed soil oxidises releasing CO2 into
the atmosphere. NSF is designed to restore ecosystem functions by re-coupling
the carbon and water cycles.
Keywords: restoring landscape function; NSF; natural sequence farming;
water and carbon cycles; plants as heat valves; climate change.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Norris, D. and Andrews, P.
(2010) ‘Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence
Farming’, Int. J. Water, Vol.
Biographical notes: Duane Norris is Co-ordinator of the Natural Sequence
Farming movement in Australia. He holds degrees in Agricultural Science
and Sustainable Landscape Management from the University of Sydney, has
worked on rainforest ecology in Papua New Guinea and North Queensland, and
is currently engaged in writing a national syllabus on Natural Sequence
Farming for farmers, natural resource managers and landcare practitioners.
He co-edited the Conference Proceedings: Natural Sequence Farming:
Defining the Science and the Practice (2006), and has authored numerous
papers and blogs for the Natural Sequence Farming Forum.
Peter Andrews pioneered the conservation technique known as Natural
Sequence Farming (NSF). He lives in the Upper Hunter River region of
New South Wales, Australia, and developed his systematic analysis of how the
Australian landscape functions while working as a farmer and horse breeder.
Currently, he applies NSF principles in landscape consulting, and specialises
Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming 387
in the restoration of degraded land, vegetation, and water systems. His aim is to
bring local ecosystems up to fertility levels existing at the time of European
settlement. He has authored two books on the NSF approach: Back from the
Brink (2006) and Beyond the Brink (2008).
1 Farming or mining carbon?
Loss of carbon from the land has been going on since the European settlement of
Australia began and today, according to one paper, these landscapes contain only
one-tenth of the amount of carbon they had 200 years ago (Wells and Prescott, 1983).
Moreover, it has been estimated that soils that once contained carbon matter 4000–10,000
years old, are now holding carbon that is only two years old. For when a farmer takes
cattle to market around 6% of land productivity has been removed by animal grazing,
and another 4% is lost to the atmosphere by oxidation from de-vegetated land (Andrews,
2006, p.116). This suggests that 90% of regenerative capacity remains. But most likely
only 20% of carbon matter is held each year, the rest being eroded and leached into the
sea by fast-running water flows (Ripl, 2010).
Whatever is in soil that makes it fertile has been put there by plants (Lal, 2009;
Andrews, 2006, p.32). Carbon is critical to soil health and plant fertility, but it is lost
through oxidation when a ploughed paddock is left fallow. More carbon is released when
grassland and trees are cleared. However, when vegetation is allowed to break down,
even if it is weedy cover, the carbon content of the soil is raised and growing conditions
improve. Plants make soil. Soil is sand and clay with plant material added. Careful water
management, planting, and mulch farming, can control this loss, but to be effective, land
management techniques must replicate the unique geographic logic of a continent.
The roles of water, plants, and soil in maintaining a landscape are each part of a complex
historically evolved system of interlocking cycles; a naturally occurring ‘design’ that is
fundamentally controlled by plants, in ways that is often beyond the capacity of humans
to fully comprehend.
The environment runs on energy and plants are the means of generating and
accumulating that energy. The primary environmental function of a plant is to extract
carbon from carbon dioxide in the air by photosynthesis. The green-surface area of a
landscape represents the ‘extractive and manufacturing’ capacity of that landscape,
and plant leaves, using the energy of the sun, mix carbon with water making sugars that
the plant needs to grow. Everything in the landscape including human food and energy
for human use depend on this process. The more a rainforest accumulates energy, the
greater diversity of plant species can live off the energy. Burn a forest and the energy
dissipates as carbon gas, so fewer plant and animal species can survive there.
Plants moderate the water cycle as well as the carbon cycle and serve as a bridge
between the two aspects of landscape productivity, regulating their interchange. Plants
have been termed ‘heat valves’ because of their evaporative cooling function, a process
described by Pokorný et al. (2010). Plants stabilise the distribution of water and carbon
on the Earth’s surface, and by physically slowing the movement of water, plants prevent
landscape entropy through loss of carbon matter in soil and debris to the sea. This is what
it means to speak of the coupling of hydrological and carbon cycles. As active managers
of natural functions, plants are neither an inconvenience to humans, nor a passive
388 D. Norris and P. Andrews
convenience – as implied in the political phrase ‘carbon sink’. The coupling of the water
and carbon cycle by plant transpiration and atmospheric evaporation is the largest transfer
of energy on the planet.
Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) is based on the restorative management of
biological functions such as these, and observations in the Australian context indicate that
the accelerated fertility decline of agricultural landscapes is brought about by deeply
gouged stream beds. Stream incision increases the erosive energy of water, leading to soil
and nutrient loss, reducing the capacity of a floodplain to hold water, lowering
underground water table reserves, and resulting in loss of wetland habitat within a valley.
NSF techniques use ponding and overflows from segmented reed beds to reduce stream
incision, so restoring flood plain sedimentation, ecological health, and retaining carbon
in the ground (Erskine, 1999).
2 Human impacts in Australia
Australia is a land of extremes. In terms of climate, it ranges from tropical to temperate.
Its weather patterns fluctuate from drought to ‘big wet’. In terms of landscape, it ranges
from rain forests to deserts. It has the oldest landscapes in the world, and it also has the
youngest. Indeed, given the highly erosive nature of the continent’s landscape,
an Australian floodplain may be no older than the last flood. Moreover, Australia’s
landscape is enormously dependent on biodiversity, one reason being that the land was
not occupied by humans until relatively recently. The arrival of Aboriginal peoples was
only 60,000 years ago, not long in geological time.
Prior to the arrival of Aboriginals, the Australian landscape supported a very different
kind of forest mix. In those areas of the continent that were forested the plant mix was
made up of palms and other Gondwana-like rainforest trees, gymnosperms including
conifers like Araucaria, and a variety of species including eucalypts. Human impacts,
first from Aboriginal communities, and then from European colonisers of the land, would
bring an end to this biodiversity. Today, eucalypts make up 90% of Australia’s forest,
since they have been better able to regenerate after fire and other environmental impacts
than almost any other plant (Singh et al., 1981; Andrews, 2006, p.150).
Archaeological evidence suggests that before Aboriginal peoples were living on
the Australian continent, the landscape rarely burned. The natural burn cycle may have
been as much as 300 years apart. Once human habitation was established, the burn cycle
appears to have shifted to every two or three years and this had a profoundly
transformative effect. Later, early European explorers would describe how Aborigines
burned vast tracts of land at a time while hunting, since animals fleeing from a bushfire
were easier to spot and kill. Burning also replaced old, dry vegetation with fresh,
green re-growth attracting kangaroos and other edible animal species (Hughes, 1981).
Other burns may have been accidental, since people carried fire sticks everywhere
(Cary et al., 2003). Forests that once covered much of Australia’s inland were almost
entirely destroyed. The destruction of vegetation in turn, very likely caused the
disappearance of mega-fauna. Finally, burning had another devastating effect. Without
vegetation to renew and sustain the topsoil, it was readily blown or washed away
exposing the clay layer beneath. The arrival of Europeans introducing inappropriate farm
practices and hoofed animal stock further reduced both biodiversity and soil cover.
Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming 389
By the time Europeans arrived in Australia in the late 1700s, the landscape was
already in decline. Even so, by today’s standards it was still relatively rich in fertility.
One indication of this is the speed at which introduced animals like sheep, rabbits, rats,
and mice, multiplied. Within a few decades these numbered tens of millions. By 1891,
barely a century after farmers settled, Australia’s sheep population totalled 106 million
(Cathcart, 2009). A decade later there was severe drought across more than half the
continent. This was called the Federation Drought after the federation of Australian states
in 1901, although it really began in the mid 1890s and was at its worst in 1902. During
this drought, sheep numbers halved; but a little over 20 years later, they were 100 million.
All this is a measure of the health of the environment. Since then, intensive farming has
taken a heavy toll on Australian farmland and its fertility is poor. The continent is now
subject to encroaching desertification (Williams and Saunders, 2003). Australian farming
practices can be described as ‘mining carbon’.
Deserts throughout the world are a result of human intervention. In Europe, however,
these effects have been masked by the resilience of landscapes there. In Australia,
anthropogenic effects are magnified by extremes of climate as well as by the introduction
of cattle, goats, and camels. The eminent limnologist Professor Wilhelm Ripl from the
Technical University of Berlin has commented that if land managers in Australia learned
the lessons of this landscape, they would become international leaders in understanding
how the global environment functions (Ripl-Andrews, Personal Communication, 2005).
Australia is a laboratory for the world.
3 Observing the land: Peter Andrews’ story
As I explain in Back from the Brink (Andrews, 2006), my training is not a scientific one.
NSF is a practice that has developed from close observation and respectful interaction
with the land. I started out as a sheep farmer and racehorse breeder, and my interest in
land was driven by practical considerations. I wanted healthier, faster horses, and came to
realise that they had a better chance, if they grazed on paddocks with plenty of
biodiversity. This was quite a revelation to me at the time, and so I set out to find out
more about the inner workings of the landscape. I soon discovered that biodiversity
was only one of the vital keys to animal health and landscape sustainability. I next
moved on to investigate the formation of in-ground water reserves. Each of these
factors – biodiversity and inground water – is generally ignored by Australian farmers,
few of whom bother to maintain biodiversity on their land. To the contrary, many spend a
large part of their working lives applying artificial fertilisers, which act like a dose of
caffeine to the soil, leaving it exhausted afterwards. Others try to eliminate the weedy
growth that could help provide their land with functional stability and fertility.
Even fewer farmers make an effort to understand the movement and storage of water
below the earth’s surface.
An important scientific question arises from all this: If Australia’s landscape is poor
today as a result of human intervention, why was it fertile before humans arrived?
How did the continental ecosystem run so successfully for millions of years? My initial
assumption was that the answer to this should help reinstate the natural processes that
once kept the Australian environment and climate functioning. Finding the answer would
be a matter of reading clues in the landscape and working out how they related to each
other. I also cross checked my immediate observations with the historical record provided
390 D. Norris and P. Andrews
by early explorers. What I learned was that the Australian landscape had evolved by
sustaining itself with in-ground water. And that this hydrological process, through the
mediation of plants, balances the carbon cycle (Field, 2004).
This is how the system worked – and in some respects it is quite counter intuitive to
people educated to scientific premises imported from Europe and America. The explorer
Mitchell (1831), said that in Australia under natural conditions, water entered
higher-ground through a system of cracks, and sandy, gravelly, ‘recharge areas’.
This water was stored in the layer of clay that underlies much of the Australian continent.
On the plains, water travelled in creeks and rivers, but paradoxically these were elevated
above the surrounding land and formed more like ponds (Eyles, 1977). A true flood plain
was what its name suggests: a plain that was periodically flooded.
The rivers and creeks were not as seen today; they had not gouged out or excised
a channel that moved water quickly across the plain. Indeed, explorer Charles Sturt
commented that they are not rivers as in England, but more like channels adjoining broad
wetlands some 50 miles across (Sturt, 1828–1831). After a rain event, whenever there
was enough water in the system, the shallow rivers would spill out of the wetlands
and spread water across the plain on either side (Figure 1). It was these floods that slowly
soaked the flood plains. Australia has never had enough rainfall to drench the land
directly.
Figure 1 Courtesy Peter Andrews, Back from the Brink (2006, p.177)
Australia’s flood plain system, as it evolved, was too brilliant a system of water
management to have been humanly invented. Each flood plain typically consisted of
a chain of separate plains. If you were to have flown over an ancient flood plain system
from top to bottom, you would have seen that the valley housing the flood plain
alternately opened out to a wide expanse and narrowed to a relatively small channel, thus
dividing the flood plain into segments. These segments were arranged in steps, each a
little lower than the one before. At the bottom of each step, perched above the step below,
was a wetland full of reeds and other vegetation.
How did these wetlands originate? My hunch is that in many cases, the formation of
wetlands was triggered by a heavy dump of mulch that trapped other debris and
sediment beginning a build-up of carbon matter. Once the wetlands were established,
Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming 391
water flowing down the system would be checked by reeds and have the erosive energy
taken out as it entered one of these wetlands. The clay was deposited where it was
trapped by plants so building new fertility. The ecological functioning of the flood plain
stands in marked contrast to the rapid erosive movement of water through an incised
stream bed.
4 The natural water cycle
In 1975 I took over a horse stud named Tarwyn Park in the Bylong Valley, a few hours’
drive north west of Sydney. The stud was located on an ancient flood plain, although the
stream that once supplied the plain with water now ran along the bottom of an eroded
channel and hardly ever flooded. I set about reinstating, in miniature, a simulation of the
old flood plain system as it once operated in Australia. Using a bulldozer and tractor,
I developed a stepped system with a small wetland at the bottom of each step, and
I installed pipes and channels to ensure the plain on either side of the stream was
periodically flooded.
In 1997, local and overseas scientists visited Tarwyn Park to assess the work I had
done. Among them was Haikai Tane, chief planner for Australia’s biggest river system,
the Murray-Darling, and Wilhelm Ripl from Berlin. I shared my conclusions about the
role of hydrology in the Australian landscape generally, and at Tarwyn Park,
in particular. Tane came up with an excellent description of the system, naming it a
broad-acre example of step-diffusion hydroponics (Andrews, 2006). Hydroponics is a
method of plant cultivation in which plants grow without soil, either in water with
dissolved nutrients, or in an aggregate material like gravel or sand, through which
nutrient solution flows. It is the second type of hydroponics that Tane had in mind when
he likened Tarwyn Park to a giant hydroponic system.
By my analysis, broad-acre step-diffusion hydroponics is what used to happen in the
Australian landscape generally. Water moved down from higher country through a series
of flood plain steps, diffusing through each wetland and filling the ground with water
laden with nutrients (See Figure 2). The further the water moved down, the richer in
nutrients it became. The plants grew and flourished in this slowly moving in-ground
water, just as they would in a hydroponic system. Today, human intervention makes the
Australian river system into a plumbing and drainage system. Water now runs down
gouged creek and riverbeds as if down a pipe, leaving the land on either side dry
(Erskine, 1999).
The original flood plain system performed an essential function that was peculiar to
Australia: it ensured that sediment and fertility was filtered and thus retained on the land,
not washed out to sea. It is reasonable to surmise that, while inland Australia was still
forested and inland flood plain systems were still functioning efficiently, Australia’s
coastal strips were vegetated with sea grasses and mangroves, thanks to carbon leaking
from the inland. The coastal strip would have been trapping sand then, rather than losing
it, thus providing an evolving landscape rather than a degrading one.
It was streams that formed the flood plains. Most likely reeds growing densely on low
ground blocked the flow of the water and forced it onto higher ground. In ancient
Australia reeds grew in abundance almost everywhere (White, 2000). One of the most
widespread varieties is Phragmites australis known as ‘common reed’. English colonials
referred to it as elephant grass. This plant generally grows to a height of about three
392 D. Norris and P. Andrews
metres, although in some locations it can be three times as tall as that. The important
thing is that reeds grew in the lower, wetter, fertile areas. Typically, Australia alternates
between long, dry periods and short, very wet periods, so water usually comes in a rush.
When there was little or no flow, water would trickle through a reed bed. When the water
came in a rush, however, it would not be able to get through the reed bed, so it would
pond behind it. When the pond grew big enough, the water would escape by flowing
around the outside of the reed bed, which meant the water was now on higher ground.
This was a self-sustaining process, for once water was redirected to the high ground it
leached fertility from the soil there.
Figure 2 Courtesy Peter Andrews, Back from the Brink (2006, p.177)
The remains of elevated river and creek beds are an observable feature of the Australian
landscape. If you drive from Sydney to Bylong, you get views of the Hunter River
winding through the countryside, contained by its banks, but several metres above land
on either side. A river or creek flowing in an elevated channel above the surrounding
country is a sign of a healthy landscape, not just in Australia but everywhere. In any
landscape that is regarded as pristine, the water body is elevated at the level of the trees.
Conversely, where a river flows through a deeply incised channel, like the Zambesi River
in Africa, or the Colorado River in the USA, it is likely to be running through a desert.
Tane has noted similarities between this perched drainage system and representations
of floodplain ecosystems found in traditional Aboriginal artwork (Tane, 1997). The
segmented system of flood plains, with each step separated from the next by a narrow
channel guarded by a reed bed could work only if all parts did. As soon as one part of the
system failed to function, the whole system failed. However, as soon as farmers
introduced industrial agriculture and hoofed animals, the system failed – reeds were
poisoned or ploughed out, eaten or trampled. Australia’s indigenous animals are soft-
footed, a fact that was vital to the survival of the ancient flood plain system. Soft-footed
animals do not damage vegetation; hard-footed animals introduced for commercial
purposes do. Where reed beds had previously controlled the flow of water from one flood
plain step to the next, water now roared through and erosion began. Head-wall cuts began
running backwards, undermining watercourses. Without reeds to moderate flow, water
flowed quickly through the lower land. The old watercourses on higher ground were
Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming 393
abandoned, although the ridges they formed still wind across the countryside, relics of a
time when plants managed the Australian landscape.
5 Environmental breakdown
The demise of the flood plain system was one of two environmental disasters to have
afflicted Australian landscapes. The other was the destruction of trees on high ground.
At countless locations around the country, trees on high ground were cut down or
otherwise destroyed, with the result that under-storey plants protected by trees
disappeared too. It was the fertility generated by trees and under-storey plants on high
land that fed the country below, including swamps, with nutrients. On average, trees shed
about one seventh of their mass each year, which means that a single tree standing in a
field with a mass of, say, 300 tons, can contribute up to 20 tons of mulch to that field
each year (Walter Jehne, Personal Communication, 2010).
The contribution of soil nutrients by a forest is considerable, and on high ground
these nutrients under force of gravity, work their way to the land below. Swamps then
process the sugars and other carbon matter that have seeped down, and when the next
flood comes these are spread over the landscape. Without trees and under-storey plants
existing above, swamps are starved of nutrients and become exhausted. In the absence of
native plants, weeds can be used temporarily to help reinstate this repair. This is not ideal,
but at least weeds help restore metabolic functions in the landscape, without which
metabolism, no plant will survive long.
In Australia, the destruction of native forests along the continent’s East Coast appears
to have had another serious consequence: it put an end to the so-called ‘biotic pump’
effect that previously ensured there was a net daily movement of moist air from the ocean
to the land. As a result, eastern Australia is markedly drier than it used to be. The ‘biotic
pump’ theory (Makarieva and Gorshkov, 2010) argues that a heavily forested coastal
strip is cooler than the ocean because during the day the forest fills with transpired water
vapour. When this vapour condenses, a lowered pressure in the forest attracts moist
onshore winds, creating an upward thermal thrust of moist air and inland rainfall.
Australian research suggests that desert areas in North Queensland are the effect of
rainforest clearing on the coastal strip (McAlpine et al., 2007; Shiel and Murdiyarso,
2009). This scientific observation is consistent with the cultural memory of local
Aboriginal people.
Australia is not the only place in the world with environmental problems like these.
European scientists are equally concerned about landscape changes. For instance, where
spruce trees once grew at 15,000 feet, they are now struggling to grow above 3000 feet,
the reason being that it is now too cold above 3000 feet for the young spruces to survive.
Since forests in the high country have been thinned out, there are no longer enough trees
to moderate the temperature at night, and the young trees cannot cope with the extreme
cold (Lovelock, 2005). People cut down trees in high country for timber, not realising its
consequences for landscape in the low country where they lived. Trees are huge
accumulators of carbon fertility. They attract birds and insects, which leave droppings;
they attract sheep and cattle, which leave their dung; and they drop leaves and other
debris which produce fertility too. Biochar should never be considered a substitute for
natural biomass in the soil. Biochar is a burnt, inert, dead compound; one that may house
microbes in a wet climate, but will do nothing for a dry landscape.
394 D. Norris and P. Andrews
6 Hands-on solutions
The term NSF confuses some people, and most of the confusion is over the word
‘sequence’. People ask: what sequence do you have in mind? In Europe, the sequence by
which the landscape operates is seasonal. In Australia, the sequence is not nearly so
regular and it is not determined by seasons. The basic factors that control this landscape
are the carbon processing green surface area of plants and the water cycle, operating
together in an interrelated sequence of processes. The event that sets the sequence in
motion is rain. The key principle is re-coupling of the carbon cycle with the hydrological
cycle, which together have the capacity to promote landscape fertility, on the one hand,
and to moderate climatic extremes through evaporation, on the other.
Contouring the land, that is, building a bank along the line of a contour and creating
a channel behind it, is one restorative NSF technique. It enables a farmer to control the
landscape hydrology and use it to advantage. It helps distribute nutrients across the land
as far as contour channels extend. Essentially, it is a water management and fertility
management system. A farmer who contours is really installing a wetting cycle in the
landscape, mirroring the ecological cycle that existed earlier. This achieves mechanically,
what plants once achieved naturally. Humans cannot do it as well as plants did,
but certainly, contouring solves some of the landscape problems that Australians must
deal with, fertility and salinity foremost among them.
The Australian landscape flourished for millions of years operating under a system
that, notwithstanding extremes of climate, ensured the continent’s sustainability.
But currently, it is a landscape in decline. Too many Australian farmers are wedded to the
idea that they can clear and then spray a paddock ready for cropping, that is, kill
everything growing there, and that nature will stand still until the crop is sewn months
later. Fertility is lost as long as that paddock is bare, and the landscape is depleted every
day as the sun burns away non-living plant matter; or wind blows it away; or water
washes it away. Obviously Australians cannot turn the clock back 100,000 years to
recreate the continent existing before humans started disrupting it. This would
mean retrieving the millions of tons of material that have been eroded out of the land
and carried to the sea. The natural regulating mechanisms that used to exist, most
notably wetlands, cannot be replaced. It is possible, however, is to reinstate the
functionality of the ancient landscape with processes that simulate the systems which
were active long ago.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank Professor David Mitchell of Charles Sturt University for
his valuable comments during the development of this manuscript.
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... The event that sets the sequence in motion is rain. The key principle is re-coupling of the carbon cycle with the hydrological cycle, which together have the capacity to promote landscape fertility, on the one hand, and to moderate climatic extremes through evaporation, on the other…" [29]. ...
Conference Paper
Australia's ancient geology, continental isolation and long, stable biophysical evolution have produced a unique and biodiverse flora and fauna complex, and well-balanced mechanisms for handling water, nutrients and organic production in its landscapes. When humans arrived more than 40,000 years ago, Australia's water, nutrient and energy systems were essentially self-sustaining. Western agricultural methods have since uncoupled parts of the innate productivity system that had long sustained these natural landscape functions. Many Australian farming and grazing businesses are today challenged from unreliable rainfall, declining soil health and rising debt. New landscape management approaches are now emerging. Some involve rehydration to reinstate Australia's natural biophysical landscape functions and processes, and can deliver both ecosystem resilience and profitability to farming enterprises. Benefits of landscape rehydration for farmers include greater water reliability, improved soil organic content and reduced reliance on high-cost artificial inputs. It also assists in mitigating climate change, as vegetated, rehydrated landscapes dissipate incoming solar thermal energy via the plant-driven photosynthetic process and the daily water cycle. This feature, until now little recognised in mainstream climate change discussions, adds a major dimension to this opportunity for the world's landscapes.
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With increasing population and pressure on land resources in the wake of climate change in Oceanic Cities, working locally with ecosystems through nature-based solutions can be a practical approach towards resilient landscapes. Extreme weather conditions and rainfall events as inevitable consequences of the future change require landscape designers to stay abreast of technology in hydrology and hydraulic modelling. This paper illustrates experimental landscape interventions to redesign topo-graphic configurations in Adobe Photoshop that offers unlimited opportunities for developing scenarios for flood mitigation. Through the coupling of GIS with a program that models the hydraulics of water flow, a method to familiarise designers with flood impacts using an iterative and scientifically informed design process is proposed. We conclude through the proposed workflow that the application of nature-based solutions was effective in reducing the water depth in flood events by 6.67 meters in vulnerable areas of the catchment occupied by informal settlements.
Chapter
The role of wetlands and forests in climate and climate change is usually considered as a part of their functions as source or sink of greenhouse gases. However, the permanent vegetation in these systems is an active factor that, through the process of evapotranspiration, directly influences climate as well. Wet vegetation transforms solar radiation into the latent heat of water vapour. Evapotranspiration is a powerful tool that has, due to the phase change of water, a double air-conditioning effect in the landscape. In addition, it reduces thermal gradients, mitigates temperature extremes and closes water and mass cycles. Evapotranspiration-condensation processes slow down where there is a lack of water and permanent vegetation. Solar radiation is then transformed into sensible heat. The overheated surfaces warm the adjacent air layer. Warm air rises turbulently upwards and is capable of absorbing higher amounts of water vapour, which is then transmitted to higher levels of the atmosphere where condensation occurs. These processes significantly dry out the landscape. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, however, do not take into account this direct effect of water and vegetation on climate. This chapter explains the direct function of wetlands and the air-conditioning effect of evapotranspiration, which is also illustrated with thermal ground images. The role of forest and wetlands in transport of water from ocean into continents in terms of a biotic pump is discussed on the basis of the literature.
Article
This International Journal of Water presents European and Australian research into the New Water Paradigm as an ecologically integrative approach to climate change. The editorial outlines the political economic context of the climate crisis and the discourses that shape public responses. It suggests that the current international framing of climate policy by business and governments acts as a 'methodological forcing' on the science. It registers the call of some members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for more holistic environmental assessments. And it notes the inverse relation between global 'analytical scale' and personal responsibility for enacting climate solutions.
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By the logic of the New Water Paradigm (NWP), it is deforestation, industrial agriculture, and urbanisation that determine climate by draining land, so that more solar energy re-enters the atmosphere as sensible heat, rather than latent heat of evaporation. Human-made 'hot plates' lead to irregular precipitation and other climate destabilisation effects, but these can be mitigated through rainwater conservation and re-vegetation. This integrative paradigm combines the management of climate, water, biodiversity, and land, with implications for agriculture, forestry, engineering, urban design and regional planning.
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On the basis of geoarchaeological investigations in eastern Australia we have argued that Aboriginal firing regimes led to episodic erosion and deposition at the rates which greatly exceeded thos under natural firing. The hypothesis has wider implications both for the interpretation of late Holocene geomorphic events in other catchments in the region and for a broader understanding of late Pleistocene and Holocene landscape evolution. -Authors
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Ecosystems use solar energy for self-organisation and cool themselves by exporting entropy to the atmosphere as heat. These energy transformations are achieved through evapotranspiration, with plants as 'heat valves'. In this study, the dissipative process is demonstrated at sites in the Czech Republic and Belgium, using landscape temperature data from thermovision and satellite images. While global warming is commonly attributed to atmospheric CO2, the research shows water vapour has a concentration two orders of magnitude higher than other greenhouse gases. It is critical that landscape management protects the hydrological cycle with its capacity for dissipation of incoming solar energy.
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While rural production has played a major role in Australia's economic development, it has had a profoundly detrimental impact on biodiversity and the quality of land and water resources. Australia's geological history has created a unique, ancient, biodiverse, very flat continent that has accumulated enormous amounts of salts in the soils, regolith, lakes and groundwater. Most of our rivers and groundwater systems are sluggish, with only a small capacity to move salt from the continent. Unfortunately, most of our European style of agriculture, pastures and annual crops is ill-suited to this landscape. The resulting loss of native species, changes in ecosystem processes and the consequent land and water damage is well documented. Much of the degradation is the consequence of agro-ecosystems that leak carbon, water, nutrients and sediments. The challenge is to build an ecologically sustainable landscape consisting of a mosaic of commercial land uses that can capture this waste and turn it into wealth creating food and fibre products. This needs to be coupled with native ecosystems that provide a suite of ecosystem services that are valued and paid for by stakeholders and beneficiaries. This will require innovative and inclusive approaches that permit fair comparison of market and non-market values. Developing the concept of valuing and marketing ecosystem services as part of this process will be increasingly important.
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Intense condensation associated with high evaporation from natural forest cover maintains regions of low atmospheric pressure on land. This causes moist air to flow from ocean to land, which compensates the river runoff. Deforestation induces large-scale desiccation by disrupting this flow. Here we overview this theory and quantify the horizontal pressure gradients that govern the continental moisture supply. High evaporation and large extent of natural forests guarantee both a stable and high throughput hydrological cycle. Forests protect a continent against devastating floods, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Sustaining natural forests is a sound strategy for water security and climate stabilisation.
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The Australian landscape has been transformed extensively since European settlement. However, the potential impact of historical land cover change (LCC) on regional climate has been a secondary consideration in the climate change projections. In this study, we analyzed data from a pair of ensembles (10 members each) for the period 1951–2003 to quantify changes in regional climate by comparing results from pre-European and modern-day land cover characteristics. The results of the sensitivity simulations showed the following: a statistically significant warming of the surface temperature, especially for summer in eastern Australia (0.4–2°C) and southwest Western Australia (0.4–0.8°C); a statistically significant decrease in summer rainfall in southeast Australia; and increased surface temperature in eastern regions during the 2002/2003 El Niño drought event. The simulated magnitude and pattern of change indicates that LCC has potentially been an important contributing factor to the observed changes in regional climate of Australia.
Article
The long Lake George record demonstrates that, under the temperate conditions of the Southern Tableland, sclerophyll vegetation and associated high fire activity existed during warm interglacial and interstadial climates. The glacial maxima, however, remained tree- as well as sclerophyll shrub-free; the lack of fuel accumulation in these largely open landscapes is confirmed by an absence of charcoal evidence. The last 140 000 yr record from Lynch's Crater, in the wet tropical climate of NE Queensland, reveals that peak development of sclerophyll vegetation and fire activity on the Atherton Tableland occurred during dry glacial climates, and that interglacials were marked by the expansion of rainforests which allowed little scope for fire activity. The history of vegetation and associated fire events is outlined for pre-aboriginal and aboriginal times, ie. before and after c.32,000 yr BP. Aboriginal man would probably have already acquired experience of fire-making, and his impact on the landscape would have been marked.-P.J.Jarvis after Author
Article
Under natural conditions order is created by interactions between water, temperature, chemical gradients, ground surface, and organisms. However, in the 'developed' landscape, order is replaced by randomness. The de-coupling of energy and water cycles is observed in eutrophication, as irreversible matter losses break closed metabolic cycles in coenotic structures. Another cause of landscape entropy is the lowered water table, which decreases surface flows. Applying the Energy-Transport-Reaction Model to the River Stor Catchment in Germany, the paper shows how dissipative structures balance terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, returning short water cycles to the atmosphere. This ecosystem integrity benefits food production as well as climate.
Article
During the well‐documented period of exploration and initial settlement of the Southern Tablelands, many drainage lines contained chains of ponds. Cultural influences, particularly ringbarking of trees and the grazing of sheep, cattle and rabbits between 1840 and 1950, caused many chains of ponds to be destroyed by channel entrenchment. Changes since 1820 have followed the sequence: chain of ‘scour’ ponds, discontinuous gully, continuously incised channel, channel containing ‘fixed bar’ ponds, permanently flowing stream. Since 1950, improvements in farm management practices and the application of soil conservation methods in certain catchments have further increased the diversity of fluvial forms. Changes are illustrated by evidence from early survey plans, aerial photographs and fieldwork.
Chapter
Despite the low concentrations in the atmosphere relative to nitrogen or oxygen, carbon dioxide (CO2) plays a significant role in the Earth's life cycle and in controlling the global climate. The positive and negative feedback mechanisms associated with the exchange of atmospheric carbon with the ocean and organic material found on the land surface (called the terrestrial biosphere) appear to have been relatively well balanced for most of humankind's existence. Since the beginning of the industrial era, however, humans have been extracting fossil carbon from the Earth's interior and combusting it for energy production. Much of this fossil carbon is converted to CO2 gas and released into the environment where it is altering the carbon balance between the atmosphere, ocean and terrestrial biosphere. Recent changes observed in the global climate are consistent with the predicted response to increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.