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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2010

4 - Determination of soil carbon stocks and changes



Soil carbon pools and the global carbon cycle

In terrestrial ecosystems soils represent the major reservoir of organic carbon (Table 4.1), but with large and yet unquantified uncertainties in their estimates (mainly due to low soil sample numbers used for global up-scaling and assumptions on mean soil depths). At the global level, the soil organic matter (SOM) pool (estimated to 1 m depth) contains about 1580 Pg of carbon (Pg = 1015 g), about 610 Pg are stored in the vegetation and about 750 Pg are present in the atmosphere (Schimel, 1995). Carbon is found in soils both in organic and inorganic forms (Table 4.2). Organic carbon is commonly classified into three ‘arbitrary’ pools, mostly for modelling purposes (such as in CENTURY), i.e. fast, slow and passive reflecting the rate of turnover. However, it is difficult to relate these pools to soil carbon fractions (see Section 4.1.5). The total amount of carbonate carbon to 1 m depth is estimated at 695–748 Pg carbon (Batjes, 1996). About one third of organic soil carbon occurs in forests and another third in grasslands and savannas, the rest in wetlands, croplands and other biomes (Janzen, 2004). The global soil organic carbon map (Fig. 4.1, ISLSCP II; ORNL DAAC, shows the areas of high soil organic carbon predominantly in cold boreal (e.g. Northern Canada) and warm and humid tropical regions (e.g. South-East Asia), reflecting areas of deep organic soils (i.e. peatlands).

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