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Carbon dioxide, water and energy fluxes of irrigated broad-acre crops in an Australian semi-arid climate zone


The response of the carbon and hydrological cycles of irrigated agro-ecosystems in semi-arid regions to changes in temperature and increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is unclear. Furthermore, the extent to which these systems contribute to the carbon cycle as net sources or sinks of carbon dioxide remains relatively unknown. In this study, eddy covariance methodologies were employed to quantify mass and energy exchange of maize, rice and wheat grown in an Australian semi-arid irrigation-dependent agricultural region. It was found that there was a distinct seasonal difference in the magnitude of energy balance components. The latent heat exchange observed during the summer growing season was almost twice that observed during winter. Irrigation management practices significantly influenced the distribution of turbulent fluxes. Over the permanently flooded rice crop, the energy balance was predominately driven by latent heat flux, which accounted for ~99 % of the energy balance. For the crops irrigated intermittently (i.e. maize and wheat), latent heat flux represented ~80 % of the energy balance. In addition, all three crops acted as a net carbon sink over the growing season. The rate of carbon assimilation was impacted by the nature of the photosynthetic pathway of the plant and seasonality. Maize, a C4 plant, exhibited the greatest capacity for carbon uptake (−1,327 g C/m2) during the summer months, and winter wheat, a C3 plant, exhibited the least (−388 g C/m2).

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Financial support for this study was provided via the Coleambally Water Smart Australia project, commissioned by the National Water Commission of Australia. The authors would like to thank Mohsin Hafeez for the opportunity to explore this study, Rolf Faux for his assistance with instrument deployment and data collection; James Cleverly, Peter Isaac and Ray Leuning for their time and instruction of data processing techniques and quality control procedures; the landholders for unlimited access to their properties; other staff and students of the former International Centre of Water for Food Security who collated ancillary data; and Michael Wilson and Austin Evans of CICL who provided access to crop water use information for the CIA.

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Vote, C., Hall, A. & Charlton, P. Carbon dioxide, water and energy fluxes of irrigated broad-acre crops in an Australian semi-arid climate zone. Environ Earth Sci 73, 449–465 (2015).

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  • Eddy covariance
  • Maize
  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • Australia
  • Irrigation
  • Water
  • Carbon