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Donal M. O'Brien

Research Officer - Gaseous Emissions

Research Interests

My current research largely focuses on supporting the transition to a sustainable, climate neutral, agricultural sector. I am particularly interested in understanding the dynamics of carbon storage in agricultural soils, and how to enhance carbon sequestration to counteract greenhouse gas emissions from farming enterprises.

I lead a research team who refine and adapt models to quantify carbon storage and sequestration in soils and biomass. We evaluate model performance against field measurements of carbon and assess the potential to forecast changes in soil organic carbon stocks at different scales. Additionally, my team explore the scope to incorporate soil models into carbon farming tools and decision support systems.

We are interested in investigating the sustainability of contemporary farms according to the life cycle assessment (LCA) technique. We have co-created LCA tools for grass-based ruminant production systems and are expanding our tools to cater for a mixture of agricultural enterprises within a sustainability platform.

I also have an interest in decision support systems for curbing climate and environmental impacts at farm-level, and provide assistance with their application in knowledge transfer programmes.

International Collaborations

  • Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS)
  • Italian Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA)
  • French Livestock Institute (IDELE)
  • Leibniz Institute for Agricultual Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB)
  • University of Liege
  • University of Zielona Gora

Current Projects

Pastureland Stores Carbon: Process-based modelling of carbon stocks and carbon sequestration in pastureland soils under temperate climatic conditions (2020-2024)

MELS (ERANET): Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from livestock systems (2020-2024)

LIFE Carbon Farming: Development and implementation of a results-based funding mechanism for carbon farming in EU mixed crop livestock systems (2021-2027)

Carbon Agri-Tools: Accounting and decision support system for calculating emission reductions and offsetting in carbon farming initiatives (2022-2026)

LCA Grain: A life cycle approach to quantifying the carbon footprint of grain grown on Irish tillage farms (2023)

Sustainability platform: Development of a sustainability platform and decision support tool for agricultural systems (2023-2027)


2008 - PhD in Agriculture and Climate Change, University College Dublin

2004 - Bachelor of Agricultural and Environmental Science, University College Dublin

O'Brien, D., Markiewicz-Keszycka, M., Herron, J., 2023. Environmental impact of grass-based cattle farms: A life cycle assessment of nature-based diversification scenarios. Resources, Environment and Sustainability 14, 100126.

Herron, J., O'Brien, D., Shalloo, L., 2022. Life cycle assessment of pasture-based dairy production systems: Current and future performance. Journal of Dairy Science 105, 5849-5869.

Farrell, L., Herron, J., Pabiou, T., McHugh, N., McDermott, K., Shalloo, L., O'Brien, D., Bohan, A., 2022. Modelling the production, profit, and greenhouse gas emissions of Irish sheep flocks divergent in genetic merit. Agricultural Systems 201, 103467.

Herron, J., Hennessy, D., Curran, T., Moloney, A., O'Brien, D., 2021. The simulated environmental impact of incorporating white clover into pasture-based dairy production systems. Journal of Dairy Science 104, 7902-7918.

O’Brien, D., Herron, J., Andurand, J., Caré, S., Martinez, P., Migliorati, L., Moro, M., Pirlo, G., Dollé, J.-B., 2020. LIFE BEEF CARBON: a common framework for quantifying grass and corn based beef farms’ carbon footprints. Animal 14, 834-845.

O'Brien, D., Moran, B., Shalloo, L., 2018. A national methodology to quantify the diet of grazing dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science 101, 8595-8604.

Further publications by Dr. Donal O’Brien are available on his Google Scholar Profile

Brendan McGoldrick
Marion Cantillon
Dylan Edgar
Garima Lakhanpal