Modeling soil functions

Soils fulfil a series of different, important functions in our environment. They are not only the fundament of agricultural plant production, they also precipitation filter for clear drinking water, and influence climate by storing carbon. In addition, they store water to prevent us from more frequent floods and offer a habitat for an enormous diversity of organisms. All these functions are a result of interactions between physical, chemical and biological processes within soils. These processes und their interactions need to be understood first in order to predict and optimize effects from land use on soil functions. The challenge is not only the complexity of the processes - processes may vary in different soils on various sights – but also the fact that soils are simply not the same.


The BonaRes Centre develops new system-oriented model concepts which will be able to display soils as complex systems.


A first step is the analysis of existing knowledge on soil processes and their interactions. Therefore, a meta-analysis of existing literature has been organized which is open to participation for all soil scientists. A corresponding infrastructure will be provided via a Web Portal. Results are then available for all parties straight away. At the same time, functional soil characteristics are being identified based on meta-analysis. Those provide substantial information on the evaluation of various soil functions and therefore can be used as indicators. The description of soil as a system is made by characteristic, site-based specification of functional characteristics and their interactions. This way, the dynamics of soil functions can be described as response to external disturbance, just like critical limits for stability and resilience. Measures for land use and their consequences on soil functions are therefore rated. The concept provides also valuable information on dynamics of soil characteristics for a wide range of existing soil process models (water dynamic, turnover, etc.) where those soil characteristics are generally used as static base for parameterizing.