How to measure, report and verify soil carbon change to realize the potential of soil carbon sequestration for atmospheric greenhouse gas removal

Pete Smith* (Corresponding Author), Jean-Francois Soussana, Denis Angers, Louis Schipper, Claire Chenu, Daniel P. Rasse, Niels H. Batjes, Fenny van Egmond, Stephen McNeill, Matthias Kuhnert, Cristina Arias-Navarro, Jorgen E. Olesen, Ngonidzashe Chirinda, Dario Fornara, Eva Wollenberg, Jorge Álvaro-Fuentes, Alberto Sanz-Cobeña, Katja Klumpp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

323 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


There is growing international interest in better managing soils to increase soil organic carbon content to contribute to climate change mitigation, to enhance resilience to climate change and to underpin food security, through initiatives such as international “4p1000” initiative and the FAO’s Global assessment of soil organic carbon sequestration potential (GSOCseq) programme. Since soil organic carbon content of soils cannot be easily measured, a key barrier to implementing programmes to increase soil organic carbon at large scale, is the need for credible and reliable measurement/monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) mechanisms. Without such mechanisms, investments could be considered risky.

In this paper we review methods and challenges of measuring SOC change directly in soils, before examining some recent novel developments that show promise for quantifying SOC. We describe how repeat soil surveys are used to estimate territorial changes in SOC over time, and how long-term experiments and space-for-time-substitution sites can serve as sources of knowledge and can be used to testing models, and as potential benchmark sites in global frameworks to estimate SOC change. We briefly consider models that can be used to simulate and project change in SOC and examine the MRV frameworks for soil organic carbon change already in use in various countries / regions. In the final section, we bring together the various components described in this review, to describe a new vision for a global framework for MRV of soil organic carbon change, to support national and international initiatives seeking to effect change in the way we manage our soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-241
Number of pages23
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
Early online date6 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

PS, JFS, CC, NB, MK, CA and JO acknowledge support from the CIRCASA project which received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement n° 774378. The input of PS also contributes to the projects: DEVIL (NE/M021327/1), Assess-BECCS (funded by UKERC) and Soils-R7-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1). AS-C acknowledges support from the AGRISOST-CM project (S2018/BAA-4330) and MACSUR-JPI initiative, as well as the inspiration and support from the Spanish research networks REMEDIA and NUEVA. JA-F acknowledges support from Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad of Spain (project number AGL2017-84529-C3-1- R). The participation of NC and EW was funded as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which is carried out with support from the CGIAR Trust Fund and through bilateral funding agreements ( The views expressed in this document cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of the funding organizations. LS and SM acknowledge support from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and Global Research Alliance. This paper contributes to the work of the Soil Carbon Sequestration network of the Integrative Research Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (


  • soil organic matter
  • soil organic carbon
  • measurement
  • monitoring
  • reporting
  • verification
  • MRV


Dive into the research topics of 'How to measure, report and verify soil carbon change to realize the potential of soil carbon sequestration for atmospheric greenhouse gas removal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this