• water content;
  • soil texture;
  • pF;
  • organic carbon;
  • soil organic matter;
  • clay mineralogy


Soil texture is one of the main factors controlling soil organic carbon (SOC) storage. Accurate soil-texture analysis is costly and time-consuming. Therefore, the clay content is frequently not determined within the scope of regional and plot-scale studies with high sample numbers. Yet it is well known that the clay content strongly affects soil water content. The objective of our study was to evaluate if the clay content can be estimated by a simple and fast measure like the water content of air-dried soil. The soil samples used for this study originated from four different European regions (Hainich-Dün, Germany; Schwäbische Alb, Germany; Hesse, France; Bugac, Hungary) and were collected from topsoils and subsoils in forests, grasslands, and croplands. Clay content, water content of air-dried soil, and SOC content were measured. Clay content was determined either by the Pipette method or by the Sedigraph method. The water content of air-dried soil samples ranged from 2.8 g kg–1 to 63.3 g kg–1 and the corresponding clay contents from 60.0 g kg–1 to 815.7 g kg–1. A significant linear relationship was found between clay content and water content. The scaled mean absolute error (SMAE) of the clay estimation from the water content of air-dried soil was 20% for the dataset using the Pipette method and 28% for the Sedigraph method. The estimation of the clay content was more accurate in fine-textured than in coarse-textured soils. In this study, organic-C content played a subordinate role next to the clay content in explaining the variance of the water content. The water retention of coarse-textured soils was more sensitive to the amount of organic C than that of fine-textured soils. The results indicate that in our study the water content of air-dried soil samples was a good quantitative proxy of clay contents, especially useful for fine-textured soils.