Estimating soil organic carbon stocks and spatial patterns with statistical and GIS-based methods

PLoS One. 2014 May 19;9(5):e97757. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097757. eCollection 2014.


Accurately quantifying soil organic carbon (SOC) is considered fundamental to studying soil quality, modeling the global carbon cycle, and assessing global climate change. This study evaluated the uncertainties caused by up-scaling of soil properties from the county scale to the provincial scale and from lower-level classification of Soil Species to Soil Group, using four methods: the mean, median, Soil Profile Statistics (SPS), and pedological professional knowledge based (PKB) methods. For the SPS method, SOC stock is calculated at the county scale by multiplying the mean SOC density value of each soil type in a county by its corresponding area. For the mean or median method, SOC density value of each soil type is calculated using provincial arithmetic mean or median. For the PKB method, SOC density value of each soil type is calculated at the county scale considering soil parent materials and spatial locations of all soil profiles. A newly constructed 1∶50,000 soil survey geographic database of Zhejiang Province, China, was used for evaluation. Results indicated that with soil classification levels up-scaling from Soil Species to Soil Group, the variation of estimated SOC stocks among different soil classification levels was obviously lower than that among different methods. The difference in the estimated SOC stocks among the four methods was lowest at the Soil Species level. The differences in SOC stocks among the mean, median, and PKB methods for different Soil Groups resulted from the differences in the procedure of aggregating soil profile properties to represent the attributes of one soil type. Compared with the other three estimation methods (i.e., the SPS, mean and median methods), the PKB method holds significant promise for characterizing spatial differences in SOC distribution because spatial locations of all soil profiles are considered during the aggregation procedure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / analysis*
  • China
  • Climate Change*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Soil / chemistry*


  • Soil
  • Carbon

Grant support

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 30771253) and the Key Project of the Science and Technology Department of Zhejiang Province (No. 2006C22026). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.