Dugout study in Saskatchewan to capture carbon – yes!

Harry Siemens – Three researchers at the University of Regina received a provincial research grant to study the role of agricultural dugouts in greenhouse gas capture.

Dr. Kerri Finlay, Dr. Peter Leavitt, Dr. Gavin Simpson of the biology department, along with Dr. Helen Baulch of the University of Saskatchewan received $255,030 from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Agriculture Development Fund.

“We are hoping to provide guidelines for dugout management to maximize CO2 uptake. If successful, this would offer a very low-cost option for carbon offsets to farmers, as they already have the dugout infrastructure in place,” Finlay says.

The funds will be used primarily to hire students, travel, collect, and analyze samples from dugouts across southern Saskatchewan.


This new research is an application of previous work done at the U of R.

In their earlier work, they found that lakes in southern Saskatchewan are absorbing more carbon dioxide as a result of global warming. This is contrary to previous research that suggested global warming is increasing CO2 emissions from lakes.


Now they will focus their research on dugouts.

“In this research we want to pursue this further by examining whether, and if so how much, CO2 is coming into farm dugouts. We further want to investigate whether this CO2 is being buried in the sediments and might thus be used as carbon offsets for agricultural emissions. Additionally, we will be measuring the other, more potent greenhouse gases, like methane and NO2, as they might completely negate the CO2 uptake,” said  Finlay.


The province of Saskatchewan may have 65 thousand dugouts or more and assistant professor Finlay wants to sign up 100 of them for a $250 thousand dollar three-year  study to find out if dugouts in fact are  net carbon collectors.

Finlay said 25 years of data show the Qu’Appelle Lakes collect carbon but wonders whether the the province’s largely alkaline soil and higher alkaline dugout water  also combine to pull in carbon.

She believes the Qu’appelle Lake’s typical pattern also happens in dugouts.

“There’s a lot of algae growing. Algae, like any other plant, is going to pull up CO2 and it’s going to pull it into the water,” Finlay said. “ Then, when that dies, it just settles into the bottom of the lake, and it accumulates in the sediment, and it’s a nice, long-term storage of carbon.”

The research will include sampling 100 dugouts across the province in August and another 20 sites sampled once a month through the summer next year. Three years down the road she hopes to come back to sample the original 100 dugouts a second time for water and gas make-up.

An interactive website  will track  the project:

“And then eventually, once we start to get the data sorted out, what we’re hoping to do is to be able to get sort of like an interactive aspect to it,” said Finlay. “Where producers could put in information about their dugout, like the age of it, the size of it … whether they use blue stone in it. We think that’s going to be important and able to spit out a rough estimate of whether they are actually pulling in carbon. We also think that these might actually be producing methane in which case it’s not going to work very well in carbon sinks but this is exactly what we’re trying to figure out with this project.”


Undergraduate biology students  in canoes will do the samples including a post doctoral fellow who is also part of the team. There are many variables.

“The land usage around it whether cows on pasture land, or not used at all, whether it’s been dredged, or the age of the dugout are some variables,” said Finlay. “So many things are going to change things quite a bit in terms of what they’re doing with carbon. We really want to get a good distribution across the province. So wherever there’s a dugout we’re interested in going and checking it out. So yeah, trying to get quite a broad distribution there.”


Other researchers are looking  research is looking at sloughs and wetlands to ask the same carbon capture questions.

“In this project, we think that wetlands and sloughs are most likely carbon sources. They’re probably releasing CO2 and methane to the atmosphere but we’re going to compare our notes with people working on those systems after a few years of research to see how the dugouts compare,” she said. “We think just the difference in the shape, the lack of plants in the dugouts, probably suggests that they’re more likely to be carbon sinks.”