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Will European soil-monitoring networks be able to detect changes in topsoil organic carbon content?


Nicolas P. A. Saby, tel. +33 2 38 41 48 24, fax +33 2 38 41 78 69, e-mail:


Within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, articles 3.3 and 3.4 stipulate that some voluntary activities leading to an additional carbon (C) sequestration in soils could be accounted as C sinks in national greenhouse gas inventories. These additional C stocks should be verifiable. In this work, we assess the feasibility of verifying the effects of changes in land use or management practice on soil organic carbon (SOC), by comparing minimum detectable changes in SOC concentration for existing European networks suitable for soil monitoring. Among the tested scenarios, the minimum detectable changes differed considerably among the soil-monitoring networks (SMNs). Considerable effort would be necessary for some member states to reach acceptable levels of minimum detectable change for C sequestration accounting. For SOC, a time interval of about 10 years would enable the detection of some simulated large changes in most European countries. In almost all cases, the minimum detectable change in SOC stocks remains greater than annual greenhouse gases emissions. Therefore, it is unlikely that SMNs could be used for annual national C accounting. However, the importance of organic C in soil functions, and as an indicator of soil condition and trends, underlines the importance of establishing effective national SMNs.