FACE (Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment) has been used since 1999 to evaluate the effects of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations on an arable crop agroecosystem. The experiment conducted at the Institute of Agroecology at the Federal Research Centre in Braunschweig consists of a typical local crop rotation of winter barley, a cover crop, sugar beet and winter wheat. The atmospheric CO2 concentration of ambient air is about 375 ppm with a δ13C value of −7 to −9‰, and 550 ppm (δ13C value = −20.2‰) during daylight hours in the rings fumigated with additional CO2. Thus, the surplus C can be traced in the agricultural system. Over the course of the first experimental period (3-year crop rotation period), the C-isotopic composition and the C concentration in soil were monitored monthly. Plant samples were analysed according to the relevant developmental stages of the crop under cultivation. A 13C depletion was observed in plant parts, as well as in soil samples from the FACE rings under CO2 enrichment, indicating that labelled C has reached both respective ecosystem compartments. Albeit farming management practice (especially ploughing) leads to a mixing of ‘old’ and ‘new’ C compounds throughout all soil horizons down to the end of the ploughing layer and resulted in a heterogeneous distribution of newly formed C compounds in the soil, isotope analysis of soil C reflected where the surplus C went. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.