Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
Short communication
13 Mar 2017
Short communication |  | 13 Mar 2017

Soil organic carbon stocks are systematically overestimated by misuse of the parameters bulk density and rock fragment content

Christopher Poeplau, Cora Vos, and Axel Don

Abstract. Estimation of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks requires estimates of the carbon content, bulk density, rock fragment content and depth of a respective soil layer. However, different application of these parameters could introduce a considerable bias. Here, we explain why three out of four frequently applied methods overestimate SOC stocks. In soils rich in rock fragments (> 30 vol. %), SOC stocks could be overestimated by more than 100 %, as revealed by using German Agricultural Soil Inventory data. Due to relatively low rock fragments content, the mean systematic overestimation for German agricultural soils was 2.1–10.1 % for three different commonly used equations. The equation ensemble as re-formulated here might help to unify SOC stock determination and avoid overestimation in future studies.

Short summary
This paper shows that three out of four frequently used methods to calculate soil organic carbon stocks lead to systematic overestimation of those stocks. Stones, which can be assumed to be free of carbon, have to be corrected for in both bulk density and layer thickness. We used data of the German Agricultural Soil Inventory to illustrate the potential bias and suggest a unified and unbiased calculation method for stocks of soil organic carbon, which is the largest terrestrial carbon pool.