Soil Sampling

Introduction to Soil Sampling

Abundance and quality of the organic carbon (C) are two among the parameters assisting to distinguish soils from surface rocks and loose deposits. Soil scientists widely recognize soil C to be one of the major product of the soil formation, which in turn drives principle soil-ecological functions, e.g., regulatory role of soils in global biogeochemical cycle of C. Soil is the second large organic carbon (C) pool in the Earth (IPCC, 2001). This pool comprises the long-term C storage measured by 1 x 102-103 years. In comparison, the lifetime period of C in vegetation varies within 1 x 102 years and decay of litter takes up to 10 years. Heteroptophic soil respiration exchanges 10% of carbon dioxide (CO2) of the atmosphere annually (Raich et al., 1995). Therefore the significance of the soil in the global C cycle is difficult to estimate.

The role of soils in the Kyoto protocol is limited only to agriculture, e.g., the protocol underlines the necessity to account the changes in greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the agricultural soils (Article 3.4, INFCCC, 1998). The protocol is silent regarding possible affect of land use, land use change and forestry on soils (Article 3.3). This missing was furnished later by two supplementary reports: (1) Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) (IPCC, 2000) and (2) Good Practice Guidance for LULUCF (IPCC, 2003) identifying soil organic C to be an obligatory to account when implementing Articles 3.3 (afforestation, reforestation and deforestation since 1990). However, the general norms provided by these documents on accounting as well as on countrywide reporting are insufficient to be applied in the agricultural fields and forests exclusively. There is a need to develop a reliable method on soil sampling to certify the changes of carbon stock in soils, lack of which might be a serious obstacle for the Kyoto implementation in EU.

The IPCC (2003) proposes to assess the changes of C stock in soils as a difference between two independently estimated spatially-averaged C contents of mineral soils for the reference (baseline) and new (current) observation. The uncertainty of the estimate arrives from the variability of soil parameters, which demand considerable amount of samples to reach required (95%) confidence level of the C stock changes detection. This makes soils involvement in C account expensive and impractical.

The suggested method of soil sampling is different. It introduces area frame sampling combining traditional in agrochemistry composite sampling with random geopositioning of the sampling sites in the field. This method insures a reproducibility of the sampling sites in the followed up samplings, which allows to minimize the amount of the samples to the practical level. In addition, this method substantialises difference in soils by LULUCF categories, e.g., IPCC oversimplifies representation of soils by viewing only one soil layer (0-30 cm) for cropland, pastures and forests. The change of C stock is proposed to be certified by the weight of C and standard error. 

The overall purpose of the present study is to provide simple, acceptable and adaptable guidelines to make soil sampling relevant to the purposes of the Kyoto, namely remain practically feasible accounting soil diversity, statistically sound and economically viable.

Soil Sampling Protocol to Certify the Changes of Organic Carbon Stock in Mineral Soils of European Union


The “Soil Sampling Protocol to Certify the Changes of Organic Carbon Stock in Mineral Soils of European Union” is complied by a group of scientists within Integrated Sink Enhancement Assessment project and SOIL Group in the Land Resource Management Unit, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission to support implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in EU.

A Soil Sampling Protocol to Certify the Changes of Organic Carbon Stock in Mineral Soils of European Union. EUR 21576 EN, 12 pp. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
Stolbovoy Vladimir, Luca Montanarella, Nicola Filippi, Senthil-Kumar Selvaradjou, Panos Panagos and Javier Gallego.
Download report:  (Size: 1.7 MB). 

Soil Sampling in LUCAS


During the preparatory phase of the LUCAS-Topsoil Survey, the main issue was to design the most meaningful method for site selection. An appropriate survey design will allow the most diverse utilisation of the results without compromising their scientific merit. Download report: Carre, F., Rusco, E., Tóth, G., Jones, A., Gardi C. and Stolbovoy V. 2013. Chapter 2. Soil sampling methodology In: Tóth, G., Jones, A. and Montanarella, L. 2013. LUCAS Topsoil Survey – methodology, data and results. EUR 26102 EN; pp 3-8

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Title: LUCAS 2009 TOPSOIL data
Resource Type: Datasets, Soil Point Data
Registration requested: Request Form
Year: 2013