Articles | Volume 1, issue 1
Review article
16 Apr 2015
Review article |  | 16 Apr 2015

Global distribution of soil organic carbon – Part 1: Masses and frequency distributions of SOC stocks for the tropics, permafrost regions, wetlands, and the world

M. Köchy, R. Hiederer, and A. Freibauer

Abstract. The global soil organic carbon (SOC) mass is relevant for the carbon cycle budget and thus atmospheric carbon concentrations. We review current estimates of SOC stocks and mass (stock × area) in wetlands, permafrost and tropical regions and the world in the upper 1 m of soil. The Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD) v.1.2 provides one of the most recent and coherent global data sets of SOC, giving a total mass of 2476 Pg when using the original values for bulk density. Adjusting the HWSD's bulk density (BD) of soil high in organic carbon results in a mass of 1230 Pg, and additionally setting the BD of Histosols to 0.1 g cm−3 (typical of peat soils), results in a mass of 1062 Pg. The uncertainty in BD of Histosols alone introduces a range of −56 to +180 Pg C into the estimate of global SOC mass in the top 1 m, larger than estimates of global soil respiration. We report the spatial distribution of SOC stocks per 0.5 arcminutes; the areal masses of SOC; and the quantiles of SOC stocks by continents, wetland types, and permafrost types. Depending on the definition of "wetland", wetland soils contain between 82 and 158 Pg SOC. With more detailed estimates for permafrost from the Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database (496 Pg SOC) and tropical peatland carbon incorporated, global soils contain 1325 Pg SOC in the upper 1 m, including 421 Pg in tropical soils, whereof 40 Pg occurs in tropical wetlands. Global SOC amounts to just under 3000 Pg when estimates for deeper soil layers are included. Variability in estimates is due to variation in definitions of soil units, differences in soil property databases, scarcity of information about soil carbon at depths > 1 m in peatlands, and variation in definitions of "peatland".

Short summary
Soils contain 1062Pg organic C (SOC) in 0-1m depth based on the adjusted Harmonized World Soil Database. Different estimates of bulk density of Histosols cause an uncertainty in the range of -56/+180Pg. We also report the frequency distribution of SOC stocks by continent, wetland type, and permafrost type. Using additional estimates for frozen and deeper soils, global soils are estimated to contain 1325Pg SOC in 0-1m and ca. 3000Pg, including deeper layers.