ANSTO scientists win Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

BLUE CARBON HORIZONS TEAM: Dr Debashish Mazumder (ANSTO), Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers (UOW), Atun Zawadzki (ANSTO), Dr Jeffrey Kelleway (UOW) and Professor Colin Woodroffe (UOW).
BLUE CARBON HORIZONS TEAM: Dr Debashish Mazumder (ANSTO), Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers (UOW), Atun Zawadzki (ANSTO), Dr Jeffrey Kelleway (UOW) and Professor Colin Woodroffe (UOW).

ANSTO scientists have helped uncover just how important Australian mangroves and saltmarshes are to reducing carbon in our atmosphere.

The findings of Dr Debashish Mazumder and Ms Atun Zawadzki, who formed part of the 'Blue Carbon Horizons Team' led by University of Wollongong (UOW), revealed that tidal marshes could be used to weaken the effects of climate change.

For their outstanding work, Blue Carbon Horizons Team were named winners of the 2019 NSW Environment, Energy and Science Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Winners of the 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the country's most comprehensive national science awards, were announced at a gala award dinner at Sydney Town Hall on August 28.

Environmental scientist Dr Mazumder and radiochemist Ms Zawadzki, said they were thrilled to be named as winners and hoped their studies can help contest global warming.

''The study found that mangroves and saltmarshes can keep up with current and predicted sea-level rise whilst capturing increased amount of carbon from the atmosphere," Ms Zawadzki said.

"Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we protect these unique ecosystems to mitigate climate change.

''This is a fantastic achievement for ANSTO and the Blue Carbon Horizons Team."

Dr Mazumder said ANSTO's precise isotopic and nuclear techniques were a fundamental part of the study.

"They showed that coastal marshes capture and store more atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit area than any other natural system," Dr Mazumder said.

"This study will greatly assist in conserving the coastal wetlands particularly in efforts for limiting climate change."

Dr Adi Patteson, CEO at ANSTO, said he was delighted that two of ANSTO's scientists were part of the team to win the Environmental Research award.

''The Eureka Awards are the Oscars of the science community, Debashish and Atun should be very proud of their achievement.'' Dr Patterson said.

''These important findings are a clear example of what can be achieved through effective research partnerships.''

The Blue Carbon Horizons Team was led by Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers from UOW and included UOW pair Dr Jeffrey Kelleway and Professor Colin Woodroffe along with Professor Neil Saintilan (Macquarie University).

Working with colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution, USA, and Nelson Mandela University, South Africa, the team gathered data from 345 locations worldwide, showing that historically, sea-level rise has increased the amount of carbon stored in wetlands.

"Our team dug in to the global sedimentary record and found that both historic and current sea-level rise has substantially increased the amount of 'blue carbon' sequestered by coastal wetlands," Prof Rogers said.

"In a time of accelerating sea-level rise, our findings provide a powerful incentive for wetland conservation and restoration in Australia and across the globe."

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes carry $170,000 in prize money and recognition nationally and internationally for winners.