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Digital Soil Assessments and Beyond Minasny, Malone & McBratney (eds) 2012 Taylor & Francis Group,

p, London, ISBN 978-0-415-62155-7

Frameworks for digital soil assessment

A.B. McBratney, B. Minasny, I. Wheeler & B.P. Malone
Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, The University of Sydney, Australia

D. van der Linden

Grote Bodem Grote Kaas BV, Gouda, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Digital soil assessment is crucial for DSM to be useful. Assessment can be driven by stakeholders, or by soil scientists themselves. Stakeholder-driven assessments are largely motivated by global issues such as food, water and energy security; climate change mitigation and provision of environmental-services. Each of these motivations requires an appropriate set of soil properties, quality assessment methods and tools. Soil-science-led assessment based on multiple soil properties has a long history, beginning with land evaluation and recently expanding to include assessment of Soil Quality and Soil Protection. Soil scientists can also provide valuable contributions to assessments driven by wider groups of stakeholders and include Environmental Life Cycle Analysis and Soil as Natural Capital. The relative utility and value of stakeholder assessments versus soil-science-led assessment requires evaluation. The potential to greatly expand the use of DSM products in the construction of assessments with a wide range of motivations and goals has considerable implications for the further development of digital soil mapping. In general, more emphasis is needed on both the current and potential future contributions of DSM to various assessments, which should be done with expedition. 1 INTRODUCTION effectuating the decision-making process; greatly increasing the utility of DSM products to the wider community.

There is little more to be had than the academic exercise of digital soil mapping (DSM) efforts without its contribution to the construction of assessment processes capable of appropriately informing decision making. In other words, the information generated by DSM needs to be both useable, and used, in order to bring appreciable benefits to society in general. But what constitutes digital soil assessments (DSA)? Who is driving their creation? And where could it take DSM? Thus far, the translation and incorporation of DSM information into DSAs has either been led by wider stakeholder groups or by the soil science community to address a wide variety of aims. There is also a rapidly growing demand for DSM inputs into larger global models, which in themselves inform various global-scale assessments and eventually the decision-making process. In this short communication we aim to discuss the major kinds of digital soil assessment (DSA), the differing underlying human-centred, conceptual values used to construct them, and the overarching motivations for their construction. Here, we pay particular attention to the various types of soil-science-driven assessments already in use and emphasise the considerable potential of DSA derived from DSM information for

2 2.1


Digital soil assessment was introduced and discussed in some detail by Carr et al. (2007) who identified the need to develop both specific and ad-hoc procedures for their generation. The singular appeal made by Carr et al. (2007) was for the translation of the information rich and spatially extant coverage of DSM outputs into risk-based, spatial decision-making surfaces. It was reasoned that these risk evaluations be based on the uncertainty of the assessment and populated via longitudinal time-series modelling. That is, DSAs translate DSM into decisionmaking aids that are framed by the particular, contextual human-value system which addresses the question/s at hand. In this way for instance, a DSA of the soil carbon sequestration potential of a landscape is likely much more useful to a decisionmaker than a DSM of soil organic matter levels despite the latter being a necessary precursor to the construction of the former.

In addition, since DSM is effectively a fullypopulated spatial information system, there is a very real applicability of DSA risk-based products to driving inter alia local and regional environmental and land-use policy, in ways that DSM alone fails to achieve. 2.2 Finke (2011)

Both Carr et al. (2007) and Finke (2011) frame their thinking in the context of the European Commissions Soil Thematic Strategy, which is to date the most developed multi-national approach to soil security and the wider environmental sustainability required to support cultural continuity. Finke (2011) has extended DSA thinking in particular by recognising and highlighting: 1. the need for improved modelling approaches in some DSM areas; 2. the considerable data demands currently unmet in global-scale models; 3. the currently assessed economic costs associated with various threats to soil and current challenges to effective mapping each of these risks; 4. the profitable use of uncertainty in risk-based DSA involving researchers, stakeholders and policy makers; and 5. applicable quality criteria for DSM and DSA products. 2.3 Assessment construction by stakeholders

and maintenance of biodiversity and the overall protection of ecosystem goods and services. Given this, there is a plethora of stakeholders with a great deal of local to global models (see e.g., Finke 2011, Table 1) that need to be supplied with soil-related data. It is not for the wider soil science community nor the digital soil mappers however, to conceive, construct and perform the assessment in all these areas. It does however, behove the soilscience community to provide digital soil maps and tools, all with appropriate quality criteria (see Finke (2011), Table 3), which can be used as inputs to as wide a variety of models and their subsequent assessments as possible. In order to achieve such ambitious transmissions of information, at a minimum requires at least provisional agreement on: 1. minimum datasets of master soil properties; 2. a whole gamut of pedotransfer functions; 3. map construction at multiple resolutions focussing on the finest possible; and 4. the greatest achievable/possible mapping extents. Agreement on these minimum specifications across the cultural scales required to produce a reasonable level on unified information was at least in part the motivation underneath GlobalSoilMap project. However, to really deliver the levels of information desired by the wider stakeholder community these master soil properties need to be expanded to include a large suite of physical, chemical, biological and biochemical properties. Development of these suites of properties (informed in part by the types of information required) will need the engagement of the wider soil-science community in conjunction with the end-use stakeholders. Thus the evolution of such information needs to be dynamic, consultative and iterative. In short, if DSM is really to inform wider DSAs to be used in societal level decision making then the job of digital soil mappers will never be done. 2.4 Soil-Science-led1 assessments

The future of DSA is in the general need for Soil Security (Figure 1) both globally and locally. Soil security covers all the major needs for soil including maintenance and improvement of the worlds soil resources so that they can continue to provide food, fibre and fresh water, make major contributions to energy and climate sustainability,

There is a long history of multivariate soil evaluation or assessment frameworks derived for Land Evaluation to Soil Quality assessments. More recently Environmental Life-cycle Analysis and Valuing Soil Natural Capital have emerged as new areas utilising DSM information. We have termed these as soil-science led assessments, not because soil scientists have necessarily developed all the frameworks, but because there is a need to demonstrate the value of soil and soil science.
Figure 1. Soil security is a key contributor to a number of global issues. All these issues are inter-related.



Table 1. Natural stocks of soil refers to the compositional states of soil that are intrinsic to determining its characteristics. Type of service MASS Solid Indicator Inorganic material Mineral stock Nutrient stock Organic material Carbon stocks Organisms Soil water content Soil air Soil temperature Soil biomass Economic value

Cost of building material Replacement cost of fertiliser Carbon offsets Medicines Irrigation & freshwater supplies ? ? Relate to carbon with a premium for diversity Value of increased water holding capacity Diversity premiuma multiplier for carbonvalue of multiplier 25 ?

Liquid Gas ENERGY Thermal Energy Biomass Energy ORGANISATION Physico-chemical structure Biotic structure Spatio-temporal structure

Soil physico-chemical organisation, soil structure Biological population organisation, food webs and biodiversity Connectivity, patches & gradients

Table 2. Ecosystem services of soil refers to the fundamental necessities to support lifeencompassing human culture and its pursuits. Type of service SUPPORTING Physical stability and support for plants Renewal, retention and delivery of nutrients for plants Habitat and gene pool REGULATING Regulation of major elemental cycles Buffering, filtering and moderation of the hydrological cycle Disposal of wastes and dead organic matter PROVISIONING Building material CULTURAL Heritage sites, archaeological preserver of artefacts Economic value ? Production (yield) functions for applied nutrients Biodiversity, new cultivars, source of novel genes Carbon, nitrogen Value of freshwater processed per hectare, flood attenuation Nutrient cycling Cost of materials ?

In addition, soil scientists have been instrumental in figuring out sensible evaluation methods for the soil component of these frameworks. 3 3.1 MODES OF SOIL-SCIENCE-LED ASSESSMENT Soil quality

The basic metric of soil quality is the indicator which measures the characteristic of some state

of the soil system. Unsurprisingly, soil quality is a concept considered to be somewhat vague in its actual definition. The original concepts of soil quality arose from agro-environmental concerns in the United States around 1990. Difficulties are still encountered as to whether we are dealing with absolute [intrinsic] or relative [enhanced or degraded] soil quality for particular purposes in particular environments. This highlights the general challenge of assessmentsthey are relative, value-driven and contextual and so need to always


be constructed and interpreted with this extra information explicitly in mind. Despite the discomfitures between the scientific method and the relativism of human-centred values in a range of particular environments, a thorough understanding of the contextualisation required for the decision-making process is necessary to construct useful assessments based on scientific information. Multivariate (multi-indicator) approaches for soil quality have been developed but not been met with great satisfaction. Perhaps because the soil quality concept has failed to converge on a common accepted set of indicators in relation to human-centred values, or because the indicators are by necessity temporally changing, there has been very limited local or regional spatialisation of soil quality indicators. Without such widespread applicability there is little spatial context that such assessments can contribute to decision-making and policy formulation. The emergence of soil health as an assessment method has overcome some of the limitations of the more problematic value relativism of the soil quality concept by using biological function as its framing definition. However, similar issues such as a lack of agreed common indicators, temporal fluctuation of those indicators, and the challenge of collecting some of these parameters has resulted in ineffectual assessment outcomes similar to that of soil quality. 3.2 Soil protection and soil security


Soil (as) natural capital

Another conceptual framework potentially useful to arrange information in a way that can feed into DSA can be provided by Soil (as) Natural Capital. Following and extending Robinson et al. (2009) and Dominati et al. (2010), soil natural capital comprises natural stocks (the compositional state of the soil system), ecosystem services (functions performed by the soil for the whole ecosystem), and ecosystem goods (products of the ecosystem supplied by soil). Natural stocks are those outlined in Table 1. For example, a sufficient level of organic matter is crucial to the functioning of soil (ecosystem services) but is often valued in terms of GHG abatement. Similarly, soil structure is crucial to water holding capacityespecially important as soil is by far the largest store of terrestrial fresh water. Ecosystem services is a term that has evolved in recent years as a result of watershed science and the study of natural and managed ecosystems (including agroecosystems). These scientific pursuits have shown that these systems generate essential services to life. Ecosystem services include: clean air, water and soil, conservation of biodiversity, nutrient cycling and wildlife habitat protection. These services are difficult to quantify in economic terms but fundamentally underpin society, which is responsible for refining definitions of economic value. As we become more aware of the intrinsic

Soil protection, or perhaps more appropriately termed Soil Security, is conceptually a far wider assessment framework than soil quality in its attempt to encompass all human and natural activities associated with soil (Koch et al., 2012). The European Commissions soil protection framework was used by Carre et al. (2007) to formulate an overall DSA approach as outlined in the schema in Figure 2. Overall, the schema recognises precisely defined DSM inputs (best understood as master variables) from which broader, more generalised information (such as water holding capacity) can be inferred; in order to inform the key DSA components of soil functions, soil processes and threats to soilall of which require agreed upon parameterisation in order to properly utilise DSM inputs. These DSA components are then used as the basis of digital soil risk assessment (Figure 2). This approach is reasonably well formulated and can lead to risk-based spatial assessment products of the sort that can bridge from discreet DSM products towards assessments with utility to decision making in society.

Figure 2. Digital soil assessment as envisaged by Carre et al. (2007). This used the EU soil protection framework as the principal assessment approach.


value these ecosystem services provide to human health (thus enabling an economy to exist) new markets for carbon, biodiversity and ecosystem services have begun to develop. Further growth of these markets and sensible ascription of economic worth will encourage the types of management practices that provide these public goods. Ecosystem goods Directly attributing ecosystem goods to soil alone is difficult, e.g., ecotourism, but no doubt these will developed. All of these aspects would need to be combined into a form of soil (financial) accounts. Research is still required to combine basic and applied hydrological, biological, geological and soil sciences with socio-economic science to reveal new ways in which managed ecosystems can provide ecosystem services. However we would suggest annual or annualised soil accounts be given as spatial balance sheets by measuring annual or annualised changes in soil natural capital. Annualisation is more realistic because annual soil changes are difficult to measure; with current analytical methodologies it is more practical to measure change over five years and average. DSM should provide outputs to produce spatial risk-based spatialised and regionalized and monetised assessments of natural stocks, soil ecosystem services and soil financial accounts. 3.4 Environmental life-cycle assessment

An environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA) comprises a systematic evaluation of environmental impacts arising from the provision of a product or service (Horne et al., 2009). A LCA is generally used to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services in order to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions. Currently, impacts on soils are not well taken into account in LCA. However, land use by agriculture, forestry, mining, construction or industry leads to substantial impacts, particularly on: 1. biodiversity; 2. biotic production potential (i.e., fertility); 3. soil quality as a supplier of life support functions (Mil i Canals et al., 2007); and on 4. CO2 emissions. As a first step to incorporate these impacts into LCA Mil i Canals et al. (2007) proposed considering various archetypes of landuse, i.e. agricultural soil, pasture soil, forest soil, sealed soil, etc and to compute the impact of a land use change. They acknowledged that the impact depends not only on the type of landuse (including coverage and intensity) but is also heavily influenced by the bio-geographical conditions of the area.

For example if we consider CO2 emissions from soils we would expect emissions to differ markedly in different geographical locations due to variations in soil type, climatic conditions and land management practices, etc. The idea of spatial differentiation touched upon here paves the way for DSM contribution to LCA-relevant soil properties. For example, these include soil properties linked to the previously mentioned LCA framework components of biodiversity, ecological services, bio-production services, and CO2 emissions from land-use change. An important soil property relevant for LCA is soil organic carbon (SOC), where we would be most interested in quantifying the fluxes or change of SOC across the spatial domain and over time. Mapping SOC change over an area can be done properly for area with an established monitoring scheme (Martin et al., 2011) as spatiotemporal modelling understandably requires spatiotemporal information. Whilst digital soil mapping largely only has access to information suitable to map SOC status at a particular time, for LCAs we would often like to know and predict the likely carbon change over time as a result of a particular set of actions. One approach to addressing this need is to employ dynamic-mechanistic modelling to a static DSM estimation. An example of this is a situation where we used a digital soil mapping approach to generate the spatial SOC concentration at 010 cm soil depth for an area in the Hunter Valley, Australia. We then employed this map as the basis for scenario modelling where the current bare-ground vineyard is no longer profitable and will be changed to improved pasture. Using a simple 2 compartment model (Hnin and Dupuis, 1945) we estimated C change for the next 20 years by: dC = hI kC dt (1)

where the change in soil carbon over time dC/dt is the result of a humification factor h (that depends on the type of organic matter) applied to annualised carbon inputs I minus the decay constant k (that depends on soil type) applied to the soil organic carbon C status of the soil. As a result of this simulated land-use change and an equilibrium timeframe of 20 yrs, we estimated that the soil carbon stock in the 010 cm layer would increase by approximately 18 Mg ha1. The original DSM prediction of carbon concentration plus its expected change through time is depicted in Figure 3. We calculated an average sequestration rate of 0.9 Mg ha1 yr1 had occurred over this 20-year period.


further development of DSA there are two key questions: To what degree can we continue to produce DSM information without first considering its end use? To what extent do we soil scientists need to step up and help develop assessment methods? ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This work is supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery and Linkage programs, TERN National Soil and Landscape Facility and the CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship Collaboration Fund. REFERENCES
Carr, F., McBratney, A.B., Mayr, T. & Montanarella, L. 2007. Digital soil assessments: beyond DSM. Geoderma 142, 6979. Dominati, E., Patterson, M. & Mackay, A. 2010. A framework for classifying and quantifying the natural capital and ecosystem services of soils. Ecological Economics 69, 18581868. Finke, P.A. 2011. On digital soil assessment with models and the Pedometrics agenda. Geoderma 171172, 315. Henin S. & Dupuis M. 1945 Essai de bilan de la matiere organique du sol. Ann. Agron. 15, 1729. Horne, R., Grant, T. & Verghese, K. 2009. Life Cycle Assesment: Principle, Practice and Prospects. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VIC. Koch, A., McBratney, A., Adams, M., Bird, M., Young, I., Abbott, L., Angers, D., Baldock, J., Goulding, K., Hempel, J., Jastrow, J., Lehmann, J., Lal, R., Lorenz, K., Morgan, C.L., Wall, D.H., Whitehead, D., Zimmermann, M., Binkley, D., Chenu, C., Crawford, J., ODonnell, A., Flora, C.B., Grunwald, S., Parton, W. & Rice, C.W. 2012. Soil Security: from stony silence to a resounding roar. In prep. Martin, M.P., Wattenbach, M., Smith, P., Meersmans, J., Jolivet, C., Boulonne, L. & Arrouays, D. 2011. Spatial distribution of soil organic carbon stocks in France. Biogeosciences 8, 10531065. Mil i Canals, L., Bauer, C., Depestele, J., Dubreuil, A., Knuchel, R.F., Gaillard, G., Michelsen, O., Muller-Wenk, R. & Rydgren, B., 2007. Key elements in a framework for land use impact assessment within LCA. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 12, 515. Robinson, D.A., Lebron, L. & Vereecken, H. 2009. On the definition of the natural capital of soils: a framework for description, evaluation and monitoring. Soil Science Society of America Journal 73, 19041911.

Figure 3. Predicted SOC content 010 cm for an area (100 ha) in the Hunter Valley and simulated changes with land use change. Time 2 is 20 years after time 1.

For an industry adjustment that removed 2000 ha of such vineyards from viticultural production into improved pastures we calculated that an additional 36 000 Mg SOC were sequestered. Assuming the 100 year obligation of permanence on land use change embodied within the Carbon Farming Initiative was acceptable, upfront payment on AUD$23 Mg CO2e and full delivery of estimated sequestrations we estimated that this conversion would have a gross value of AUD$3 million at initiation. This value implies maintenance obligations for the 100 year permanence duration will be met (guaranteed) as no discounts for risk or reversal are included. Of course, the risk of sequestration reversal, potential losses of land use flexibility (and potentially value) and associated costs of monitoring, reporting and compliance will significantly reduce this value. How best to deal with these issues is a matter of considerable debate. However, from an LCA perspective such inputs can add useful depth to such assessments. 4 CONCLUSIONS

Whilst there are numerous conceptual value frameworks already available with which to construct assessments, expedient development and execution of DSA in particular is required otherwise DSM runs the real risk of expiring on a mountain of unused digital maps. It is likely that DSM can make a substantial and sustained contribution to decision making and public policy however this requires translation of the information into readily usable products which address the policy questions and global modelling demands at hand. In the