1Aarhus University, Dept. of Agroecology and Environment, P.O. Box 50, 8830 Tjele, Denmark
2Aalborg University, Dept. of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Sohngaardsholmsvej 57, 9000 Aalborg, Denmark
Received: 27 Feb 2009 – Discussion started: 25 Mar 2009
Abstract. Soil functions and their impact on health, economy, and the environment are evident at the macro scale but determined at the micro scale, based on interactions between soil micro-architecture and the transport and transformation processes occurring in the soil infrastructure comprising pore and particle networks and at their interfaces. Soil structure formation and its resilience to disturbance are highly dynamic features affected by management (energy input), moisture (matric potential), and solids composition and complexation (organic matter and clay interactions). In this paper we review and put into perspective preliminary results of the newly started research program "Soil-it-is" on functional soil architecture. To identify and quantify biophysical constraints on soil structure changes and resilience, we claim that new approaches are needed to better interpret processes and parameters measured at the bulk soil scale and their links to the seemingly chaotic soil inner space behavior at the micro scale. As a first step, we revisit the soil matrix (solids phase) and pore system (water and air phases), constituting the complementary and interactive networks of soil infrastructure. For a field-pair with contrasting soil management, we suggest new ways of data analysis on measured soil-gas transport parameters at different moisture conditions to evaluate controls of soil matrix and pore network formation. Results imply that some soils form sponge-like pore networks (mostly healthy soils in terms of agricultural and environmental functions), while other soils form pipe-like structures (agriculturally poorly functioning soils), with the difference related to both complexation of organic matter and degradation of soil structure. The recently presented Dexter et al. (2008) threshold (ratio of clay to organic carbon of 10 kg kg−1) is found to be a promising constraint for a soil's ability to maintain or regenerate functional structure. Next, we show the Dexter et al. (2008) threshold may also apply to hydrological and physical-chemical interface phenomena including soil-water repellency and sorption of volatile organic vapors (gas-water-solids interfaces) as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (water-solids interfaces). However, data for differently-managed soils imply that energy input, soil-moisture status, and vegetation (quality of eluded organic matter) may be equally important constraints together with the complexation and degradation of organic carbon in deciding functional soil architecture and interface processes. Finally, we envision a road map to soil inner space where we search for the main controls of particle and pore network changes and structure build-up and resilience at each crossroad of biophysical parameters, where, for example, complexation between organic matter and clay, and moisture-induced changes from hydrophilic to hydrophobic surface conditions can play a role. We hypothesize that each crossroad (e.g. between organic carbon/clay ratio and matric potential) may control how soil self-organization will manifest itself at a given time as affected by gradients in energy and moisture from soil use and climate. The road map may serve as inspiration for renewed and multi-disciplinary focus on functional soil architecture.
Revised: 07 Aug 2009 – Accepted: 12 Aug 2009 – Published: 19 Aug 2009
de Jonge, L. W., Moldrup, P., and Schjønning, P.: Soil Infrastructure, Interfaces & Translocation Processes in Inner Space ("Soil-it-is"): towards a road map for the constraints and crossroads of soil architecture and biophysical processes, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 1485-1502, doi:10.5194/hess-13-1485-2009, 2009.