Changes in organic carbon distribution with depth in agricultural soils in northern Belgium, 1960-2006

Meersmans Jeroen, B Van Wesemael, Bart De Ridder, M Fallas Dotti, Bernard De Baets, Marc Van Molle

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103 Citations (Scopus)


In most studies concerning the carbon (C) exchange between soil and atmosphere only
the topsoil (0-0.3 m) is taken into account. However, it has been shown that important
amounts of stable soil organic carbon (SOC) are also stored at greater depth. Here, we
developed a quantitative model to estimate the evolution of the distribution of SOC with
depth between 1960 (database 'Aardewerk') and 2006 in northern Belgium. This temporal
analysis was conducted under different land use, texture and drainage conditions. The
results indicate that intensified land management practices seriously affect the SOC
status of the soil. The increase in plough depth and a change in crop rotation result in a
significant decrease of C near the surface for dry silt loam cropland soils, (i.e.
1.02±0.23 kgCm-² in the top 0.3m between 1960 and 2006). In wet to extremely wet
grasslands, topsoil SOC decreased significantly, indicating a negative influence of
intensive soil drainage on SOC stock. This resulted in a decline of SOC between 1960
and 2006 in the top 1m, ranging from 3.9±2.57 kgCm-² in extremely wet silt loam soils
to 2.04±2.08 kgCm-²in wet sandy soils. A slight increase of SOC stock is observed
under dry to moderately wet grasslands at greater depths corresponding to increased
livestock densities in the region. The increase of SOC in the top 1m under grassland
ranges from 0.65±1.39 kgCm-² in well drained silt loam soils to 2.59±6.49 kgCm-² in
moderately drained silt loam soils over entire period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2739-2750
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2009


  • Belgium
  • depth distribution
  • drainage
  • land use
  • soil organic carbon
  • soil type
  • texture


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