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Soil, land care and environmental research
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Predicting contents of carbon and its component fractions in Australian soils from diffuse reflectance mid-infrared spectra

J. A. Baldock A B , B. Hawke A , J. Sanderman A and L. M. Macdonald A

A CSIRO Land and Water/Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, PMB 2 Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: jeff.baldock@csiro.au

Soil Research 51(8) 577-595 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SR13077
Submitted: 8 March 2013  Accepted: 6 December 2013   Published: 20 December 2013

Abstract

Quantifying the content and composition of soil carbon in the laboratory is time-consuming, requires specialised equipment and is therefore expensive. Rapid, simple and low-cost accurate methods of analysis are required to support current interests in carbon accounting. This study was completed to develop national and state-based models capable of predicting soil carbon content and composition by coupling diffuse reflectance mid-infrared (MIR) spectra with partial least-squares regression (PLSR) analyses. Total, organic and inorganic carbon contents were determined and MIR spectra acquired for 20 495 soil samples collected from 4526 locations from soil depths to 1 m within Australia’s agricultural regions. However, all subsequent MIR/PLSR models were developed using soils only collected from the 0–10, 10–20 and 20–30 cm depth layers. The extent of grinding applied to air-dried soil samples was found to be an important determinant of the variability in acquired MIR spectra. After standardisation of the grinding time, national MIR/PLSR models were developed using an independent test-set validation approach to predict the square-root transformed contents of total, organic and inorganic carbon and total nitrogen. Laboratory fractionation of soil organic carbon into particulate, humus and resistant forms was completed on 312 soil samples. Reliable national MIR/PLSR models were developed using cross-validation to predict the contents of these soil organic carbon fractions; however, further work is required to enhance the representation of soils with significant contents of inorganic carbon. Regional MIR/PLSR models developed for total, organic and inorganic carbon and total nitrogen contents were found to produce more reliable and accurate predictions than the national models. The MIR/PLSR approach offers a more rapid and more cost effective method, relative to traditional laboratory methods, to derive estimates of the content and composition of soil carbon and total nitrogen content provided that the soils are well represented by the calibration samples used to build the predictive models.

Additional keywords: humus organic carbon, mid-infrared spectroscopy, partial least squares regression, particulate organic carbon, resistant organic carbon, soil organic carbon, soil inorganic carbon.


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