Indicator Specification

Soil organic carbon

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: LSI 005 , CLIM 027
Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 25 Aug 2017
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Changes in soil organic carbon content across England and Wales between 1978 and 2003 Projected changes in soil organic carbon for cropland 1990-2080

Update planned for November 2012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Organic carbon in the soil is a dynamic part of the carbon cycle, which includes the atmosphere, water and constituents of the above- and below-ground biosphere. The main source of organic carbon is organisms that synthesise their food from inorganic substances (autotrophic), such as photosynthesising plants. In this process atmospheric carbon is used to build organic materials and enters the soil layers through decomposition and the formation of humus.
Climatic conditions strongly influence both the trends and rates of accumulation and transformation of organic substances in the soil. Increases in temperature and aridity lead to a decrease in the amount of organic carbon in soils in affected areas. Lower levels of organic carbon in the soil are generally detrimental to soil fertility and water retention capacity and tend to increase soil compaction, which leads to increases in surface water runoff and erosion. Other effects of lower organic carbon levels are a depletion of biodiversity and an increased susceptibility to acid or alkaline conditions. The projected changes will accelerate the release of CO2 from the soil, contributing to higher concentrations in the atmosphere (Janssens, 2004; Bellamy, 2005). The main measures to reduce the detrimental effect of higher temperatures combined with lower soil moisture on the amount of soil organic carbon are changes in land cover and adaptation of land-management practices (Liski et al., 2002; Janssens et al., 2004; Smith et al., 2005, 2006). Under given climatic conditions, grassland and forests tend to have higher stocks of organic carbon than arable land and are seen as net sinks for carbon (Vleeshouwers and Verhagen, 2002). Land-management practices aim at increasing net primary production and reducing losses of above-ground biomass from decomposition. Adaptive measures on agricultural land are changes in farming practices, such as a reduction in tilling or retaining crop residues after harvesting.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

  • Changes in soil organic carbon content across England and Wales between 1978 and 2003
  • Projected changes in soil organic carbon for cropland 1990-2080



Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Geertrui Veerle Erika Louwagie


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
LSI 005
CLIM 027
Version id: 1


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


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