Regional Soil Monitoring Tool for Sustainable Substance Cycles

The agricultural use of soils impacts the element cycles and thus important soil functions. A long-term monitoring thus provides important knowledge on the state and dynamics in this ecosystem and offers an efficient performance check of environmental policy measures.

Of the sampled agricultural soils, case study areas are selected to calculate for the last decades the cycles of nutrients (N, P), heavy metals (Cu, Zn, Cd) and pesticides. These element cycles are predicted in the form of scenarios for the future management of the soils, considering various socio-economic conditions.

Figures: Example of a regional balance for phosphorous (above) and nitrogen (below) determined on arable land and grassland.

The soil monitoring tool that is to be developed should promote balanced element cycles in agricultural soils on a regional scale (Figure). Here, the central question is under which conditions nutrient cycles in an agricultural region can be optimised while associated pollutant inputs are avoided.

The soil monitoring tool will help make decisions with respect to sustainable soil use in a region. Non-sustainable developments can be detected early and buffered with preventive measures. The monitoring tool thus provides an important basis for the execution of soil protection policies and promotes a sustainable soil use in agriculture.


  • Gómez Giménez M., R. Della Peruta, R. de Jong, A. Keller, and M. Schaepman. 2016. Spatial differentiation of arable land and permanent grassland to improve a Land Management Model for nutrient balancing. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing 99:1-11. 10.1109/JSTARS.2016.2551729. 

Previous publications on regional modelling of substance balances in agricultural soils:

  • Karami M., M. Amini, M. Afyuni, A. Khoshgoftarmanesh, A. Keller, A. Abdi, R. Schulin. 2014 Agricultural zinc fluxes into soils and crops of central Iran at regional scale. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science 60:3, 437-456.
  • Gärtner D. , Keller A., Schulin R. 2013. A simple regional downscaling approach for spatially distributing land use types for agricultural land. Agricultural Systems. 120, 10-19.
  • Kägi, N. 2010. Regionale Stoffbilanzen landwirt-schaftlicher Böden im Kanton Thurgau. Masterarbeit an der Universität Zürich und Agroscope.
  • Keller, A., and Schulin, R. 2003. Modelling heavy metal and phosphorus balances for farming systems. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 66: 271 – 284.
  • Keller A. and Schulin, R. 2003. Modelling regional-scale mass balances of phosphorus, cadmium and zinc fluxes on arable and dairy farms. European Journal of Agronomy 20: 181 – 198.
  • Keller, A., Abbaspour, K. C., and Schulin, R. 2002. Assessment of uncertainty and risk in modeling regional heavy-metal accumulation in agricultural soils. Journal of Environmental Quality 31: 175 – 187.
  • Keller, A., B. von Steiger, R. Schulin and S.E.A.T.M. van der Zee. 2001. A Stochastic Empirical Model for Heavy-Metal Balances in Agroecosystems. Journal of Environmental Quality 30: 1976-1989.
  • von Steiger, B., Keller, A., Schulin, R., 1998. Regional mass flux balancing for controlling gentle soil remediation operations. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 50, 303-306.