Modeling Soil Processes: Review, Key Challenges, and New Perspectives

Vereecken, H. and Schnepf, A. and Hopmans, J.W. and Javaux, M. and Or, D. and Roose, T. and Vanderborght, J. and Young, M.H. and Amelung, W. and Aitkenhead, M. and Allison, S.D. and Assouline, S. and Baveye, P. and Berli, M. and Brüggemann, N. and Finke, P. and Flury, M. and Gaiser, T. and Govers, G. and Ghezzehei, T. and Hallett, P. and Franssen, H.J. Hendricks and Heppell, J. and Horn, R. and Huisman, J.A. and Jacques, D. and Jonard, F. and Kollet, S. and Lafolie, F. and Lamorski, K. and Leitner, D. and McBratney, A. and Minasny, B. and Montzka, C. and Nowak, W. and Pachepsky, Y. and Padarian, J. and Romano, N. and Roth, K. and Rothfuss, Y. and Rowe, E.C. and Schwen, A. and Šimůnek, J. and Tiktak, A. and Dam, J. Van and van der Zee, S.E.A.T.M. and Vogel, H.J. and Vrugt, J.A. and Wöhling, T. and Young, I.M.

Vadose Zone Journal, vol. 15(5) , 2016.


Akaike information criterion, Bayesian model evidence, Bayesian information criterion, Bayesian model averaging, CLM, Community Land Model, DEM, digital elevation model, EnKF, Ensemble Kalman Filter, ET, evapotranspiration, GHG, greenhouse gases, GIS, geographic information system, GPS, global positioning system, IC, information criteria, ISMC, International Soil Modeling Consortium, KIC, Kashyap information criterion, LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, MCMC, Markov chain Monte Carlo, MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, MW, microwave spectrum, MWIR, mid-wave infrared spectrum, NIR, near-infrared spectrum, OTU, operational taxonomic units, pdf, probability density function, PSS, proximal soil sensing, PTF, pedotransfer function, SAR, Synthetic Aperture Radar, SDA, sequential data assimilation, SVAT, soil–vegetation–atmosphere transfer, SWIR, short-wave infrared spectrum, TE, treated effluents, TIR, thermal infrared spectrum, UAV, unmanned air vehicles, μCT, microcomputed tomography, VIS, visible spectrum, VSP, virtual soil platform


The remarkable complexity of soil and its importance to a wide range of ecosystem services presents major challenges to the modeling of soil processes. Although major progress in soil models has occurred in the last decades, models of soil processes remain disjointed between disciplines or ecosystem services, with considerable uncertainty remaining in the quality of predictions and several challenges that remain yet to be addressed. First, there is a need to improve exchange of knowledge and experience among the different disciplines in soil science and to reach out to other Earth science communities. Second, the community needs to develop a new generation of soil models based on a systemic approach comprising relevant physical, chemical, and biological processes to address critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of soil processes and their interactions. Overcoming these challenges will facilitate exchanges between soil modeling and climate, plant, and social science modeling communities. It will allow us to contribute to preserve and improve our assessment of ecosystem services and advance our understanding of climate-change feedback mechanisms, among others, thereby facilitating and strengthening communication among scientific disciplines and society. We review the role of modeling soil processes in quantifying key soil processes that shape ecosystem services, with a focus on provisioning and regulating services. We then identify key challenges in modeling soil processes, including the systematic incorporation of heterogeneity and uncertainty, the integration of data and models, and strategies for effective integration of knowledge on physical, chemical, and biological soil processes. We discuss how the soil modeling community could best interface with modern modeling activities in other disciplines, such as climate, ecology, and plant research, and how to weave novel observation and measurement techniques into soil models. We propose the establishment of an international soil modeling consortium to coherently advance soil modeling activities and foster communication with other Earth science disciplines. Such a consortium should promote soil modeling platforms and data repository for model development, calibration and intercomparison essential for addressing contemporary challenges.