Better estimates of soil carbon from geographical data: a revised global approach

  • Sandra Duarte-GuardiaEmail author
  • Pablo L. Peri
  • Wulf Amelung
  • Douglas Sheil
  • Shawn W. Laffan
  • Nils Borchard
  • Michael I. Bird
  • Wouter Dieleman
  • David A. Pepper
  • Brian Zutta
  • Esteban Jobbagy
  • Lucas C. R. Silva
  • Stephen P. Bonser
  • Gonzalo Berhongaray
  • Gervasio Piñeiro
  • Maria-Jose Martinez
  • Annette L. Cowie
  • Brenton Ladd
Original Article


Soils hold the largest pool of organic carbon (C) on Earth; yet, soil organic carbon (SOC) reservoirs are not well represented in climate change mitigation strategies because our database for ecosystems where human impacts are minimal is still fragmentary. Here, we provide a tool for generating a global baseline of SOC stocks. We used partial least square (PLS) regression and available geographic datasets that describe SOC, climate, organisms, relief, parent material and time. The accuracy of the model was determined by the root mean square deviation (RMSD) of predicted SOC against 100 independent measurements. The best predictors were related to primary productivity, climate, topography, biome classification, and soil type. The largest C stocks for the top 1 m were found in boreal forests (254 ± 14.3 t ha−1) and tundra (310 ± 15.3 t ha−1). Deserts had the lowest C stocks (53.2 ± 6.3 t ha−1) and statistically similar C stocks were found for temperate and Mediterranean forests (142 - 221 t ha−1), tropical and subtropical forests (94 - 143 t ha−1) and grasslands (99-104 t ha−1). Solar radiation, evapotranspiration, and annual mean temperature were negatively correlated with SOC, whereas soil water content was positively correlated with SOC. Our model explained 49% of SOC variability, with RMSD (0.68) representing approximately 14% of observed C stock variance, overestimating extremely low and underestimating extremely high stocks, respectively. Our baseline PLS predictions of SOC stocks can be used for estimating the maximum amount of C that may be sequestered in soils across biomes.


Soil organic carbon Geographic information systems Climate Global Pristine ecosystems Baseline 



We thank INTA Argentina for supporting our work in Patagonia. Nils Borchard was placed as an integrated expert at the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM). CIM is a joint venture of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the International Placement Services (ZAV) of the German Federal Employment Agency (BA).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11027_2018_9815_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (146 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 145 kb)
11027_2018_9815_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (34.4 mb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 34.4 mb)
11027_2018_9815_MOESM3_ESM.xls (2.7 mb)
ESM 3 (XLS 2.68 mb)


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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Duarte-Guardia
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pablo L. Peri
    • 2
  • Wulf Amelung
    • 3
  • Douglas Sheil
    • 4
    • 5
  • Shawn W. Laffan
    • 6
  • Nils Borchard
    • 7
    • 8
    • 9
    • 10
  • Michael I. Bird
    • 11
  • Wouter Dieleman
    • 11
  • David A. Pepper
    • 6
    • 12
  • Brian Zutta
    • 13
  • Esteban Jobbagy
    • 14
  • Lucas C. R. Silva
    • 15
  • Stephen P. Bonser
    • 16
  • Gonzalo Berhongaray
    • 17
  • Gervasio Piñeiro
    • 18
    • 19
  • Maria-Jose Martinez
    • 20
  • Annette L. Cowie
    • 21
    • 22
  • Brenton Ladd
    • 16
    • 20
  1. 1.Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia Austral (UNPA)Santa CruzArgentina
  2. 2.INTA EEA Santa Cruz, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)-cc332Santa CruzArgentina
  3. 3.Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES), Soil Science and Soil EcologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  4. 4.Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource ManagementNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  5. 5.Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)Jalan Cifor RawajahaKota BogorIndonesia
  6. 6.School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  7. 7.Agrosphere Institute (IBG-3)Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany
  8. 8.Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)Jalan CIFORBogorIndonesia
  9. 9.Ruhr-University Bochum, Institute of Geography, Soil Science/Soil EcologyBochumGermany
  10. 10.Plant ProductionNatural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)HelsinkiFinland
  11. 11.College of Science, Technology and Engineering and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability ScienceJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  12. 12.Institute for Applied EcologyUniversity of CanberraCanberra ACTAustralia
  13. 13.Programa Nacional de Conservación de Bosques, Ministerio del Ambiente (National Forest Conservation Program, Ministry of the Environment)LimaPeru
  14. 14.Grupo de Estudios Ambientales, IMASLUniversidad Nacional de San Luis y CONICETSan LuisArgentina
  15. 15.Environmental Studies Program, Department of Geography, Institute of Ecology & EvolutionUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  16. 16.Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  17. 17.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)/Facultad de Ciencias AgrariasUniversidad Nacional del LitoralEsperanzaArgentina
  18. 18.IFEVA, Facultad de Agronomía, CONICET, Laboratorio de Análisis Regional y Teledetección (LART-FAUBA)Universidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina
  19. 19.Facultad de AgronomiaUniversidad de la RepublicaMontevideoUruguay
  20. 20.Escuela de AgroforesteríaUniversidad Científica del SurLimaPeru
  21. 21.NSW Department of Primary IndustriesArmidaleAustralia
  22. 22.School of Environmental and Rural ScienceUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

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