The increase of summer temperatures and a prolonged growing season increase the potential for agricultural land use for subarctic agriculture. Nevertheless, land use at borderline ecotones is influenced by more factors than temperature and the length of the growing season, for example soil quality, as the increasing lengths of dry periods during vegetation season can diminish land use potential. Hence, this study focuses on the quality of the soil resource as possible limiting factor for land use intensification in southern Greenland. Physical and chemical soil properties of cultivated grasslands, reference sites and semi-natural birch and grassland sites were examined to develop a soil quality index and to identify the suitability of soils for a sustainable intensification and expansion of the agriculture. The study revealed that soils in the study area are generally characterized by a low effective cation exchange capacity (CECeff
) (3.7 ± 5.0 meq 100 g−1
), low pH CaCl2
(4.6 ± 0.4) and low clay and silt content (3.0 ± 1.0% and 38.2 ± 4.7%, respectively). Due to the high amount of coarse fraction (59.1 ± 5.8%) and the low amount of soil nutrients, an increasing threat of dry spells for soils and yield could be identified. Further, future land use intensification and expansion bears a high risk for concomitant effects, namely further soil acidification, nutrient leaching and soil degradation processes. However, results of the soil quality index also indicate that sites which were already used by the Norseman (980s–1450) show the best suitability for agricultural use. Thus, these areas offer a possibility to expand agricultural land use in southern Greenland.
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