Developments in Fractionation and Measurement of Soil Organic Carbon: A Review


Soil organic carbon (SOC) is the percentage measure of carbon (C) derived from living organisms in soil. Stability of soil organic matter (SOM) can be defined in terms of how easily C and nitrogen in the SOM can be decomposed. Due to the implications in the permanence of SOC during sequestration there is scientific interest in fractionation of SOM into different fractions. A large number of SOM fractionation procedures have been developed to distinguish between SOM to study whether it is liable or recalcitrant to activities of soil microbes. There are physical and chemical fractionation techniques. The former is based on particle size and density of soil samples or combination of the two, and the latter on the reaction of chemical on SOM for the separation of stable SOC. Each fraction of SOC in the laboratory can be commonly determined using wet oxidation by Walkley-Black method and dry combustion by LECO CN Analyzer. With the advancement in chemometric statistical techniques; faster, robust, cheaper and non-destructive methods are emerging. The chemometric statistical techniques do not require any reagents for analysis compared with the wet oxidation or dry combustion methods. Thus, these emerging techniques are highly attractive for studies where a large number of analyses are required. For in situ measurement of SOC, spectral reflectance technology is developed to facilitate instant measurement in the field using the sensors or by remote sensing.

Share and Cite:

Y. Bajgai, N. Hulugalle, P. Kristiansen and M. McHenry, "Developments in Fractionation and Measurement of Soil Organic Carbon: A Review," Open Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 3 No. 8, 2013, pp. 356-360. doi: 10.4236/ojss.2013.38041.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] J. A. Baldock and J. O. Skjemstad, “Soil Organic Carbon/Soil Organic Matter,” CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 1999.
[2] D. W. Pribyl, “A Critical Review of the Conventional SOC to SOM Conversion Factor,” Geoderma, Vol. 156, No. 3-4, 2010, pp. 75-83.
[3] U. Stockmann, M. A. Adams, J. W. Crawford, D. J. Field, N. Henakaarchchi, M. Jenkins, B. Minasny, A. B. McBratney, V. D. R. D. Courcelles, K. Singh, I. Wheeler, L. Abbott, D. A. Angers, J. Baldock, M. Bird, P. C. Brookes, C. Chenu, J. D. Jastrow, R. Lal, J. Lehmann, A. G. O’Donnell, W. J. Parton, D. Whitehead and M. Zimmermann, “The Knowns, Known Unknowns and Unknowns of Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon,” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Vol. 164, 2013, pp. 80-99.
[4] A. F. Plante, J. M. Fernández, M. L. Haddix, J. M. Steinweg and R. T. Conant, “Biological, Chemical and Thermal Indices of Soil Organic Matter Stability in Four Grassland Soils,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 43, No. 5, 2011, pp. 1051-1058.
[5] Y. Bajgai, “Effect of Alterative Cropping Management on Soil Organic Carbon,” PhD Thesis, University of New England, Armidale, 2013.
[6] K. Coleman, D. S. Jenkinson, G. J. Crocker, P. R. Grace, J. Klír, M. Körschens, P. R. Poulton and D. D. Richter, “Simulating Trends in Soil Organic Carbon in Long-Term Experiments Using RothC-26.3,” Geoderma, Vol. 81, No. 1-2, 1997, pp. 29-44.
[7] W. J. Parton, D. S. Schimel, C. V. Cole and D. S. Ojima, “Analysis of Factors Controlling Soil Organic Matter Levels in Great Plains Grasslands,” Soil Science Society of America Journal, Vol. 51, No. 5, 1987, pp. 1173-1179.
[8] M. von Lützow, I. Kögel-Knabner, K. Ekschmitt, H. Flessa, G. Guggenberger, E. Matzner and B. Marschner, “SOM Fractionation Methods: Relevance to Functional Pools and to Stabilization Mechanisms,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 39, No. 9, 2007, pp. 2183-2207.
[9] B. T. Christensen, “Physical Fractionation of Soil and Structural and Functional Complexity in Organic Matter Turnover,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 52, No. 3, 2001, pp. 345-353.
[10] H. Blanco-Canqui and R. Lal, “Mechanisms of Carbon Sequestration in Soil Aggregates,” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, Vol. 23, No. 6, 2004, pp. 481-504.
[11] B. T. Christensen, “Physical Fractionation of Soil and Organic Matter in Primary Particle Size and Density Separates,” Advances in Soil Science, Vol. 20, 1992, pp. 1-90.
[12] J. Six, E. T. Elliott and K. Paustian, “Aggregate and soil organic Matter Dynamics under Conventional and NoTillage Systems,” Soil Science Society of America Journal, Vol. 63, No. 5, 1999, pp. 1350-1358.
[13] J. Six, E. T. Elliott and P. K., “Soil Macroaggregate Turnover and Microaggregate Formation: A Mechanism for C Sequestration under No-Tillage Agriculture,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 32, No. 14, 2000, pp. 2099-2103.
[14] C. A. Cambardella and E. T. Elliott, “Particulate Soil Organic-Matter Changes across a Grassland Cultivation Sequence,” Soil Science Society of America Journal, Vol. 56, No. 3, 1992, pp. 777-783.
[15] A. Golchin, J. M. Oades, J. O. Skjemstad and P. Clarke, “Soil Structure and Carbon Cycling,” Australian Journal of Soil Research, Vol. 32, No. 5, 1994, pp. 1043-1068.
[16] J. Sanderman, J. Baldock, B. Hawke, L. Macdonald, A. Massis-Puccini and S. Szarvas, “National Soil Carbon Research Programme: Field and Laboratory Methodologies,” CSIRO, Land and Water, Urrbrae, 2011.
[17] J. Balesdent, E. Besnard, D. Arrouays and C. Chenu, “The Dynamics of Carbon in Particle-Size Fractions of Soil in a Forest-Cultivation Sequence,” Plant and Soil, Vol. 201, No. 1, 1998, pp. 49-57.
[18] J. Six, E. T. Elliott, K. Paustian and J. W. Doran, “Aggregation and Soil Organic Matter Accumulation in Cultivated and Native Grassland Soils,” Soil Science Society of America Journal, Vol. 62, No. 5, 1998, pp. 1367-1377.
[19] J. Six, R. Merckx, K. Kimpe, K. Paustian and E. T. Elliott, “A Re-Evaluation of the Enriched Labile Soil Organic Matter Fraction,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 51, No. 2, 2000, pp. 283-293.
[20] P. Falloon, P. Smith, K. Coleman and S. Marshall, “How Important Is Inert Organic Matter for Predictive Soil Carbon Modelling Using the Rothamsted Carbon Model?” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2000, pp. 433-436.
[21] K. Quénéa, S. Derenne, C. Largeau, C. Rumpel and A. Mariotti, “Influence of Change in Land Use on the Refractory Organic Macromolecular Fraction of a Sandy Spodosol (Landes de Gascogne, France),” Geoderma, Vol. 136, No. 1-2, 2006, pp. 136-151.
[22] N. Poirier, S. Derenne, J. Balesdent, A. Mariotti, D. Massiot and C. Largeau, “Isolation and Analysis of the NonHydrolysable Fraction of a Forest Soil and an Arable Soil (Lacadee, Southwest France),” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2003, pp. 243-255.
[23] A. F. Plante, C. Chenu, M. Balabane, A. Mariotti and D. Righi, “Peroxide Oxidation of Clay-Associated Organic Matter in a Cultivation Chronosequence,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2004, pp. 471-478.
[24] K. Eusterhues, C. Rumpel, M. Kleber and I. KögelKnabner, “Stabilisation of Soil Organic Matter by Interactions with Minerals as Revealed by Mineral Dissolution and Oxidative Degradation,” Organic Geochemistry, Vol. 34, No. 12, 2003, pp. 1591-1600.
[25] M. Kleber, R. Mikutta, M. S. Torn and R. Jahn, “Poorly Crystalline Mineral Phases Protect Organic Matter in Acid Subsoil Horizons,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 56, No. 6, 2005, pp. 717-725.
[26] M. Helfrich, H. Flessa, R. Mikutta, A. Dreves and B. Ludwig, “Comparison of Chemical Fractionation Methods for Isolating Stable Soil Organic Carbon Pools,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 58, No. 6, 2007, pp. 1316-1329.
[27] S. J. Kalembasa and D. S. Jenkinson, “A Comparative Study of Titrimetric and Gravimetric Methods for the Determination of Organic Carbon in Soil,” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Vol. 24, No. 9, 1973, pp. 1085-1090.
[28] D. W. Nelson and L. E. Sommers, “Total Carbon, Organic Carbon and Organic Matter,” In: D. L. Sparks, A. L. Page, P. A. Helmke and R. H. Loeppert, Eds., Methods of Soil Analysis Part 3—Chemical Methods, ASA, SSSA, Inc. Madison, 1996, pp. 961-1010.
[29] G. P. Gillman, D. F. Sinclair and T. A. Beech, “Recovery of Organic Carbon by the Walkley and Black Procedure in Highly Weathered Soils,” Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, Vol. 17, No. 8, 1986, pp. 885892.
[30] K. R. Brye and N. A. Slaton, “Carbon and Nitrogen Storage in a Typic Albaqualf as Affected by Assessment Method,” Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, Vol. 34, No. 11-12, 2003, pp. 1637-1655.
[31] M. Diaz-Zorita, “Soil Organic Carbon Recovery by the Walkley-Black Method in a Typic Hapludoll,” Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, Vol. 30, No. 5-6, 1999, pp. 739-745.
[32] S. Lettens, B. De Vos, P. Quataert, B. Van Wesemael, B. Muys and J. Van Orshoven, “Variable Carbon Recovery of Walkley-Black Analysis and Implications for National Soil Organic Carbon Accounting,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 58, No. 6, 2007, pp. 1244-1253.
[33] L. J. Janik, R. H. Merry and J. O. Skjemstad, “Can Mid Infrared Diffuse Reflectance Analysis Replace Soil Extractions?” Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, Vol. 38, No. 7, 1998, pp. 681-696.
[34] X. M. Yang, H. T. Xie, C. F. Drury, W. D. Reynolds, J. Y. Yang and X. D. Zhang, “Determination of Organic Carbon and Nitrogen in Particulate Organic Matter and Particle Size Fractions of Brookston Clay Loam Soil Using Infrared Spectroscopy,” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2012, pp. 177-188.
[35] M. Zimmermann, J. Leifeld and J. Fuhrer, “Quantifying Soil Organic Carbon Fractions by Infrared-Spectroscopy,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2007, pp. 224-231.
[36] L. J. Janik, J. O. Skjemstad, K. D. Shepherd and L. R. Spouncer, “The Prediction of Soil Carbon Fractions Using Mid-Infrared-Partial Least Square Analysis,” Soil Research, Vol. 45, No. 2, 2007, pp. 73-81.
[37] G. M. Vasques, S. Grunwald and J. O. Sickman, “Comparison of Multivariate Methods for Inferential Modeling of Soil Carbon Using Visible/Near-Infrared Spectra,” Geoderma, Vol. 146, No. 1-2, 2008, pp. 14-25.
[38] V. Bellon-Maurel and A. McBratney, “Near-Infrared (NIR) and Mid-Infrared (MIR) Spectroscopic Techniques for Assessing the Amount of Carbon Stock in Soils— Critical Review and Research Perspectives,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Vol. 43, No. 7, 2011, pp. 1398-1410.
[39] L. Cécillon, B. G. Barthès, C. Gomez, D. Ertlen, V. Genot, M. Hedde, A. Stevens and J. J. Brun, “Assessment and Monitoring of Soil Quality Using Near-Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS),” European Journal of Soil Science, Vol. 60, No. 5, 2009, pp. 770-784.
[40] E. Ben-Dor, K. Patkin, A. Banin and A. Karnieli, “Mapping of Several Soil Properties Using DAIS-7915 Hyperspectral Scanner Data—A Case Study over Clayey Soils in Israel,” International Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 23, No. 6, 2002, pp. 1043-1062.
[41] A. Chatterjee, R. Lal, L. Wielopolski, M. Z. Martin and M. H. Ebinger, “Evaluation of Different Soil Carbon Determination Methods,” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, Vol. 28, No. 3, 2009, pp. 164-178.

Copyright © 2020 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.