Best foot forward from Greenpeace to blue carbon
A few years ago, Dr James Sippo and a group of fellow biogeochemists were seated around a table discussing ways they could support and complement each other’s environmental research.
“At one stage, we happened to look under the table and saw that not one of us was wearing shoes,” recalled Dr Sippo. “The Barefoot Biogeochemistry research group named itself and was born that day.”
Barefoot origins aside, Dr Sippo and his colleagues are kicking research goals as a rising global cohort of young scientists who will lead the next wave of knowledge and action on the environment. In the Lismore-based group's sights are regional issues including groundwater and surface water hydrology, biogeochemistry, marine and freshwater chemistry, and greenhouse gas cycling.
Dr Sippo’s environmental sensibility first found expression in advocacy. Long before becoming a scientist, he worked for Greenpeace – his “laboratory” being the CBD of Brisbane where he talked to people about the importance of protecting the natural world.
“Hounded them, more accurately,” he said, only half joking.
Dr James Sippo
Today, his commitment manifests just as fervently, but does so in scientific contexts and settings.
“I enjoyed my time with Greenpeace, but I wanted to discover more,” said Dr Sippo. “At the time, my interest was sparked by the Coal Seam Gas protest movement that was fighting gas exploration in the Northern Rivers. Because of that, I was drawn to study at Southern Cross University.”
In 2012, Dr Sippo enrolled in a Bachelor of Environmental Science and later followed his degree with Honours. For his PhD, completed through the National Marine Science Centre at Coffs Harbour, he jumped at the opportunity to join esteemed scientists Professor Damien Maher and Professor Isaac Santos on a trip to Australia’s Top End to study mangroves in relation to species dieback, carbon sequestration and ocean acidification.
Since then, Dr Sippo has continued to enhance his reputation as a biogeochemist, particularly through investigating the role of natural systems in climate change mitigation. A key element of his research is blue carbon and its relation to greenhouse gas exchange and carbon storage.
Blue carbon refers to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the planet’s oceanic and coastal ecosystems. Southern Cross University has a long history of expertise in blue carbon research and Dr Sippo has played a key role in an exciting development in the field – BlueCAM.
A unique accounting model, BlueCAM allows farmers, businesses and industries to earn Australian carbon credit units by establishing and rehabilitating ecosystems – such as mangroves, saltmarshes, seagrass and melaleuca forests – that sequester carbon. These units can be sold or traded to generate revenue. While some carbon credit systems have endured a troubled history around the world, there is much optimism around BlueCAM.
“As part of the project, we developed a calculator that landowners will use to input information about their properties, such as the original land use, site elevation and blue carbon vegetation that develops naturally once tidal activity resumes,” said Dr Sippo. “The calculator takes these inputs and works off a national dataset to calculate carbon credits for each project, without having to undertake costly on-site carbon measurements.
“I have been so fortunate to have collaborated with an amazing team of like-minded researchers from Southern Cross University and other institutions, all of whom are engaged in high-impact science on greenhouse gases, climate science and natural systems.
“BlueCAM fits neatly within that environmental spectrum and offers great promise as a national carbon credit system that is uniquely tailored to Australia’s blue carbon ecosystems.”
Mangrove research - Northern Australia