Soil monitoring: Stethoscope on the underground

Dossier

Using the Munsell table to recognize the soil type of different horizons by colors (© Tobias Nagel)

All agriculture and forestry is based on soil. Soils supply plants with water and nutrients and are a living universe of smaller and larger creatures.


But soil has many more functions that are sometimes only apparent at second glance. Our climate is influenced by soil: Atmospheric CO2 is bound in soil through plants that convert it into organic components such as humus. Carbon compounds can again be released into the atmosphere when microorganisms decompose the humus. Many parameters such as land use, tillage, water regime and temperature influence these processes.

Narrowly defined research areas are not sufficient to describe the soil conditions in Germany and to develop guidelines for a sustainable land use. We develop recommendations for policy and practice that can be applied across Germany. In our research we consider the regional differences and local characteristics of soil and the diversity of land use. Our nationwide approach includes the extensive investigation of 5,000 agricultural and forest land locations in Germany.

Ascheböden, sogenannte Podsole, finden sich vor allem in Norddeutschland. Sie werden oftmals ackerbaulich genutzt.
Podzols can be primarily found in Northern Germany. They are often used agriculturally (© BZE Landwirtschaft)
Auenböden finden sich in den Tälern von Flüssen oder Bächen, sind sehr nass und werden als Grünland genutzt.
Alluvial soils can be found in river and stream valleys, they are very wet soils and are used as grassland. (© BZE Landwirtschaft)

We look inside the soil. We determine the soil type, carbon content, soil structure and many other parameters. Moreover, we investigate the processes in the soil in numerous individual examinations which constantly expand our knowledge of the soil resource. Processes in soil take place slowly. We therefore need a long-term approach and recurrent evaluations in order to gain meaningful and significant results. As a federal research institution, ongoing long-term tasks belong to our core business. Our portfolio ranges from soil science through to  the monitoring of fish stock and greenhouse gases to the extensive programs of forest monitoring.