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A modern-day Eyre’s expedition to measure Lake Eyre basin’s greenhouse gases


Sharlene King
8 May 2019

With Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre filling with floodwaters, modern-day explorers Bradley Eyre and Dirk Erler headed to central Australia to measure its greenhouse gas emissions in a scientific first.

Bearing no relation to the European explorer for which the lake is named, Professor Bradley Eyre and Associate Professor Dirk Erler from Southern Cross University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry chartered a helicopter in late April to gather water samples at various points along the catchment and shore of one of Australia’s natural wonders.

They are the first scientists to conduct greenhouse gas measurements at the ephemeral inland salt lake and its associated river systems.   

“These dryland river systems cover a large percentage of the Australian continent but no one’s explored greenhouse gas emissions before. You’ve got to go when it floods,” said Professor Eyre.

“Every other river drainage basin on this continent goes out to sea, except the Lake Eyre Basin which drains inland.”

Now back in Lismore, the pair is awaiting the results of their water samples which have been sent away for testing.

Among the questions being explored is whether green emissions from inland draining dryland lakes and river system are different to other lakes and rivers.

“Natural greenhouse gas emissions from lakes and rivers make a significant contribution to the global greenhouse gas budget,” said Associate Professor Erler.

“These inland systems are so vast than even small changes in greenhouse gas flux can have an enormous impact on the overall budget. While we suspect that these systems may be sources of greenhouse gases, it’s also entirely possible that they could be a greenhouse gas sponge. This is unchartered scientific territory.”

The Lake Eyre Basin covers more than 1 million square kilometres.

“These types of drylands cover about a quarter of the global land surface. To date there’s been very little work on greenhouse gas emissions in inland draining river systems,” Professor Eyre said.

The field trip to Lake Eyre forms part of the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry’s greenhouse gas work, including estuary research in Queensland funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.