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Open AccessReview

Review of Soil Organic Carbon Measurement Protocols: A US and Brazil Comparison and Recommendation

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, USA
The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA Agrobiologia), Seropédica 23891-000, RJ, Brazil
National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (NLAE), Ames, IA 50011, USA
Interdisciplinary Center of Energy Planning (NIPE)/Unicamp, Barão Geraldo, Campinas 13083-970, SP, Brazil
Environmental Assistance Office (EAO), University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28273, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2018, 10(1), 53;
Received: 8 August 2017 / Revised: 19 December 2017 / Accepted: 20 December 2017 / Published: 26 December 2017
(This article belongs to the Section Energy Sustainability)
Soil organic carbon (SOC) change influences the life-cycle assessment (LCA) calculations for globally traded bio-based products. Broad agreement on the importance of SOC measurement stands in contrast with inconsistent measurement methods. This paper focuses on published SOC research on lands managed for maize (Zea mays L.) in the U.S. and sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.) in Brazil. A literature review found that reported SOC measurement protocols reflect different sampling strategies, measurement techniques, and laboratory analysis methods. Variability in sampling techniques (pits versus core samples), depths, increments for analysis, and analytical procedures (wet oxidation versus dry combustion) can influence reported SOC values. To improve consistency and comparability in future SOC studies, the authors recommend that: (a) the methods applied for each step in SOC studies be documented; (b) a defined protocol for soil pits or coring be applied; (c) samples be analyzed at 10 cm intervals for the full rooting depth and at 20 cm intervals below rooting until reaching 100 cm; (d) stratified sampling schemes be applied where possible to reflect variability across study sites; (e) standard laboratory techniques be used to differentiate among labile and stable SOC fractions; and (f) more long-term, diachronic approaches be used to assess SOC change. We conclude with suggestions for future research to further improve the comparability of SOC measurements across sites and nations. View Full-Text
Keywords: carbon sequestration; soil sampling; bioenergy; ethanol; sugarcane; maize carbon sequestration; soil sampling; bioenergy; ethanol; sugarcane; maize
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Davis, M.R.; Alves, B.J.R.; Karlen, D.L.; Kline, K.L.; Galdos, M.; Abulebdeh, D. Review of Soil Organic Carbon Measurement Protocols: A US and Brazil Comparison and Recommendation. Sustainability 2018, 10, 53.

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