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Berlin Environmental Atlas

01.11 Criteria for the Evaluation of the Soil Functions (Editin 2018)

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01.11.11 Buffering Capacity in the Organic Carbon Balance

Description

As part of the global organic carbon cycle, soil acts as an essential buffer and at times a sink. This lowers the CO2 emission and can therefore contribute to the reduction of global warming. This contribution of the soil is linked to its humus and peat content, which is mainly formed by vegetation inputs. An increased proportion of humus and peat reduces the CO2 emission, whereas the decomposition of humus and peat is a source of CO2. Under natural conditions, a balance between humus forming and decomposing usually sets in over time. Increased humus and peat contents can be found in developing, relatively young soils and in intact bogs. The destruction of soil structures, intensive agricultural use and, in the case of bogs, drainage cause the organic substance to decompose and CO2 and methane (CH4) to be released simultaneously. Gentle agricultural and horticultural use and the spontaneous development of urban (raw) soils lead to an accumulation of organic matter, forming a CO2 sink.

With regard to the organic carbon balance, two soil types characterized by a high buffering capacity may be identified:

  • raw soils, if developed without interference, that are still able to bind large amounts of organic carbon, as well as
  • soils with currently high humus or peat content, the disruption or destruction of which leads to the release of CO2.

While it takes a long time for young soils to bind organic carbon, the release of CO2 after the soil structure has been destroyed, occurs relatively quickly. The release is therefore prioritized and constitutes the only factor that is assessed here.

The total amount of peat and humus stored in Berlin soils corresponds to approx. 17.6 million tonnes of CO2. Berlin's CO2 emissions amount to approx. 16.5 million t/year (as of 2015, Statistical Office for Berlin-Brandenburg, 2018).

Methodology

The evaluation of the buffering capacity in relation to the organic carbon balance is based on the organic carbon stock levels (cf. Map 01.06.6).

Tab. 1: Evaluation of the buffering capacity in the organic carbon balance based on the organic carbon stock levels
Organic carbon stock level Buffering capacity in the organic carbon balance
Level Designation
1 - 3 1 low
4 2 medium
5 - 6 3 high
Tab. 1: Evaluation of the buffering capacity in the organic carbon balance based on the organic carbon stock levels

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