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Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

Spatial distribution of soil organic carbon concentrations in

grassland of Ireland
David McGratha, Chaosheng Zhangb,*
Teagasc, Johnstown Castle Research Centre, Wexford, Ireland
Department of Geography and Environmental Change Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

Received 30 August 2002; accepted 17 February 2003

Editorial handling by R. Fuge

Soil organic C (SOC) concentrations in topsoil samples taken at 678 sites in the grassland of Ireland were investi-
gated using statistics and geostatistics. SOC concentrations (WalkleyBlack method) follow a lognormal distribution,
with a median and geometric mean of 5.0%, and an arithmetic mean of 5.3%. Statistically signicant (P< 0.01) posi-
tive correlation between SOC and silt-plus-clay, and negative correlation between SOC and sand were observed, with
lower correlation (P=0.17) between SOC and pH. Lower SOC concentrations were associated with higher percentages
of land in tillage. In order to obtain a robust measurement of spatial structure, spatial outliers were detected, and
subsequently eliminated, using the local Morans I index. The spatial distribution of SOC concentrations based on
kriging interpolation showed coherent spatial patterns, with the highest values in the western coastal area, and rela-
tively low values in the inland and southeastern coastal areas; soils at higher elevation were also found to contain
higher SOC concentrations. These patterns are consistent with the distribution of rainfall within the country.
# 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction before changes can be evaluated, the baseline situation

needs to be established and this is addressed here.
Soils play an important role in global C cycling and Statistics and geostatistics have been used to study the
global warming. The global soil organic C (SOC) pool is relationships between SOC and these factors, and to
estimated at 1500 Pg (Eswaran et al., 1995; Batjes, quantify spatial distribution patterns and changes in SOC
1996), which is roughly equivalent to the sum of the (e.g., Van Meirvenne et al., 1996; Saldana et al., 1998;
atmospheric pool of 750 Pg and the biotic pool of 600 Chevallier et al., 2000; Frogbrook and Oliver, 2001).
Pg (Schimel, 1995; Houghton, 1995; Lal, 2002). Geostatistics is based on the theory of a regionalized
SOC levels are known to be inuenced by a large variable (Matheron, 1963), i.e., one which is distributed
number of factors, many of which are mutually inter- in space with spatial coordinates. The concepts of geosta-
active. These include: parent material, soil texture, cli- tistics are explained in several textbooks (e.g.: Cressie,
mate, soil pH, landuse, management, topography and 1993; Goovaerts, P., 1997; Clark and Harper, 2000; Web-
drainage. Manipulation of some of these factors, espe- ster and Oliver, 2001). In the past 20 a, geostatistics has
cially management-related ones, may be used to increase become widely applied in soil sciences, and has provided
C sequestration in soils and thus mitigate national cli- advanced methodologies to quantify the spatial features
mate-change commitments (Smith et al., 2000). However, of soil parameters and carry out spatial interpolation
(Burgess and Webster, 1980; Webster, 1994; Dobermann
et al., 1997; Stein et al., 1997; Zhang et al., 1998, 2000).
* Corresponding author. Fax: +353-91-525700. Ireland is a country dominated by grassland, and SOC
E-mail addresses: has primarily been investigated in these soils (Brogan,
(D. McGrath), (C. Zhang). 1966; McGrath, 1980; McGrath and McCormack,
0883-2927/03/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1630 D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

1999). The data set from Brogan (1966) was obtained 1010 km2 sector of the national grid and sampled. Where
via a national soil survey, undertaken in 1964, which land cover by lake, forest, bog and mountain was less than
covers most parts of the Republic of Ireland. Despite 25%, 2 sites were selected; when greater than 75%, no
the time-lag since the data was generated, it was con- sample was taken. The 678 samples so obtained represent
sidered to still provide a valuable base against which approximately 50% of the total that could be accom-
subsequent and future measurements could be eval- modated at a frequency of 2 samples for each 1010 km2
uated. For this reason it has been used in this study. sector. The shortfall in the number of samples collected
can be accounted for by the low sampling-density in some
areas, e.g., in the west of the country, and in the Wicklow
2. Methods south Dublin areas which, though largely mountainous,
also included upland grassland sites. However, such sites
2.1. Sampling and analysis of SOC were often peaty with SOC in excess of 18% and were
excluded under the sampling protocol.
About 59% of the land surface of the Republic of The locations of the grassland sampling sites are
Ireland was recorded as being devoted to permanent pas- shown in Fig. 1. SOC concentrations were determined
ture in 1964 (CSO, 1965). Soils (010 cm depth) were sam- by the Walkley-Black (Cwb) method (Metson, 1956).
pled from under permanent pasture (Brogan, 1966). A Sand, silt-plus-clay contents and pH values were also
maximum of 2 sites were selected at random from each determined (Brogan, 1966).

Fig. 1. Soil sampling locations in Ireland (n=678).

D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639 1631

2.2. Geostatistics 2.3. Spatial outlier detection

Geostatistics (Matheron, 1963; Cressie, 1993; Webster Outliers, and especially spatial outliers, in the data set
and Oliver, 2001) uses the semi-variogram to measure can make the variogram exhibit erratic behaviour. Spa-
the spatial variability of a regionalized variable, and tial outliers are those values that are obviously dierent
provides the input parameters for the spatial interpola- from the values of their surrounding locations (Lalor
tion method of kriging, a term introduced by Matheron and Zhang, 2001). In this work, such outliers are iden-
in 1960 in honour of the work of the South African tied using an index, local Morans I (Anselin, 1995;
mining engineer D.G. Krige (1951). It relates the semi- Getis and Ord, 1996):
variogram, half the expected squared dierence between
zi  z X
paired data values z(x) and z(x+h) to the distance, lag Ii 2
wij zj  z 5
 j1; j6i
h, by which locations are separated:
 h E zx  zx h2 1 where zi is the value of the variable z at location i; z is
the average value of z with the sample number of n; zj is
For discrete sampling sites, such as those that had the value of the variable z at all the other locations
been sampled in this study, the function is written in the (where j6i);  2 is the variance of variable z; and wij is a
form: weight, dened as the inverse of the distance dij between
locations i and j:
1 X
h zxi  zxi h2 2 1
2Nh i1 wij 6
where z(xi) is the value of the variable Z at location of Local Morans I can be standardised so that its sig-
xi, h is the lag, and N(h) is the number of pairs of nicance level can be tested based on the normal dis-
sample points separated by h. For irregular sampling, it tribution (Levine, 1999), when the distribution of the
is rare for the distance between the sample pairs to be raw data set is not too skewed. It should be noted that
exactly equal to h. Therefore, h is often represented by a when the raw data are too skewed, the normal approx-
distance interval. imation of the local Morans I may fail. When the stan-
A variogram plot is obtained by calculating values of dardized value of local Morans I is higher than the
the variogram at dierent lags. These values are then critical value of 1.96, it is concluded (P=0.05) that the
usually tted with a theoretical model: spherical, expo- sample under test is clustered with (or similar to) the
nential, or Gaussian (See Matheron, 1963; Cressie, surrounding samples; if lower than 1.96, it is con-
1993; or Webster and Oliver, 2001 for discussion). The cluded (P=0.05) that the sample under test is sig-
models provide information about the spatial structure nicantly dierent from the surrounding samples and is
as well as the input parameters for the kriging inter- considered to be a spatial outlier.
Kriging is regarded as an optimal spatial inter- 2.4. Data treatment with computer software
polation method, which is a type of weighted moving
average: The data sets were analysed using dierent software
n packages. The descriptive statistical parameters were
z^x0 li zxi 3 calculated with Microsoft Excel# and SPSS# (version
i1 10.0). Maps were produced with GIS software Arc-
View# (version 3.2) and its extension of Spatial Ana-
where z^x0 is the value to be estimated at the location lyst# (version 2). The geostatistics analyses were carried
of x0; z(xi) is the known value at the sampling site xi, out with GS+# (version 5.3) (Robertson, 2000) and
and li is a weight. There are n sites within the search Idrisi 32# (Release 2), and the local Morans I index was
neighbourhood around x0 used for the estimation, and calculated with CrimeStat# (version 1.0) (Levine, 1999).
the magnitude of n will depend on the size of the moving
search window and user denition. Kriging diers from
other methods (such as inverse distance weighted), in 3. Descriptive statistics
that the weight function li is no longer arbitrary, being
calculated from the parameters of the tted variogram 3.1. Probability distribution
model under the conditions of unbiasedness and mini-
mized estimation variance for the interpolation. Thus, Histograms of SOC concentrations determined by the
kriging is regarded as a best linear unbiased estimation WalkleyBlack method are shown in Fig. 2. That for the
(BLUE). raw data set has a long tail towards higher concentrations,
1632 D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

Fig. 2. Histograms of Cwb concentrations in soils of Ireland (n=678): (a) raw data; (b) logarithmically transformed data.

whereas that for the logarithmically-transformed dataset 5.0%. Due to the lognormal feature of Cwb, the geo-
can be satisfactorily modelled by a normal distribution. metric mean and median are recommended as its repre-
Table 1 shows the quantitative parameters of the sentative mean value, while the arithmetic mean
probability distribution and signicance level of the (average) should be discarded for this variable.
KolmogorovSmirnov test for conformance to a normal
distribution for the variables. The probability distribu- 3.3. Relationships between SOC and other factors
tion of Cwb is positively skewed and has a sharp peak
(positive kurtoses). The log-transformed data show Pearson (linear) correlation coecients between the 4
rather small skewnesses and kurtoses, and pass the KS variables were calculated. These are given in Table 3,
normality test at a signicance level of higher than 0.05. together with corresponding signicance levels.
On the other hand, contents of sand and silt-plus-clay
follow a normal distribution, and log-transformation
Table 2
makes the t to a normal distribution worse. pH values Basic statistic parameters of SOC concentrations and other
cannot pass either the normal or lognormal tests. How- related variables (%, except pH, n=678)
ever, its skewness and kurtosis are rather small. There-
fore, the log-transformed data sets of Cwb, and the raw Statistics Cwb Sand Silt+clay pH
data sets of sand, silt-plus-clay and pH were used for the Min 2.0 8 8 4.3
following multivariate analyses. 5% 3.0 21 36 5.1
25% 4.0 31 48 5.5
3.2. Mean values for SOC
Median 5.0 37 55 5.8
75% 6.1 44 63 6.2
Percentiles and commonly used estimators of location 95% 9.1 56 71 7.0
and spread were calculated (Table 2). The range of Cwb
varies from 2.0 to 17.8%, with the arithmetic mean of Max 17.8 87 88 7.8
5.3%. Both the geometric mean and median of Cwb are Average 5.3 37.7 54.9 5.9
GeoMean 5.0 36.1 53.7 5.8
Stdev 1.9 10.5 10.7 0.6
Table 1
Shape parameters of the probability distributions and sig-
nicance level of KolmogorovSmirnov test (KS p) (n=678)
Table 3
Statistics Cwb Sand Silt+clay pH Correlation coecients (lower-left side) and their signicance
levels (upper-right side) (n=678)
Raw data Skewness 1.66 0.32 0.28 0.70
Kurtosis 4.77 0.65 0.60 0.42 LnCwb Sand Silt+clay pH
KS p 0.00 0.17 0.73 0.00
LnCwb 0.00 0.00 0.17
Log-transformed Skewness 0.36 0.82 1.72 0.43 Sand 0.43 0.00 0.00
data Kurtosis 0.42 1.76 8.92 0.08 Silt+clay 0.22 0.91 0.00
KS p 0.11 0.01 0.01 0.00 pH 0.05 0.14 0.13
D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639 1633

A positive correlation between SOC and silt-plus-clay Table 4

and negative correlation between SOC and sand were Results of post hoc tests in ANOVA with Duncans method
also conrmed. It should be mentioned that the two (with mean values of LnCwb in each elevation group)
variables of sand and silt-plus-clay sum up to almost
Elevation group (m) n S.D. Subset 1 Subset 2
100%, which forms a constant sum proportion. In this
case, the strong negative correlation between the two 0 50 0.365 1.557
variables is expected. The correlation between SOC and 50 171 0.306 1.559
pH is less pronounced. The causative relationship 100 301 0.340 1.622 1.622
between SOC and pH is complex, with SOC being a 150 156 0.304 1.675
progenitor of carbonic acid which then contributes to Signicance level 0.158 0.221
inhibiting organic matter degradation by soil micro-
To reveal the relationship between SOC concen- shown that the variances between the groups of the data
trations and elevation of the sampling sites, the GIS set are homogenous at the signicance level of 0.46, and
software ArcView# was used to assign the samples to 4 thus Duncans test can be applied. The 4 groups of
elevation groups: 0 ( < 25), 50 (2574), 100 (75124), and samples can be separated into 2 subsets. The rst subset
150 (> 124) m, based on which contour line the sampling contains samples within the elevation groups of 0, 50,
location is close to. The box-plot (Fig. 3) shows the dif- and 100 m; while the second subset consists of the 100
ference of SOC concentrations among these groups. and 150 m elevation groups. The dierences within
In each box-plot, the lower boundary of the box either subset are not statistically signicant, at the 0.05
shows the 25th percentile, and the upper boundary level, with signicance levels of 0.158 and 0.221, respec-
shows the 75th percentile. The whiskers are lines that tively. However, the dierence between the subsets is
extend from the box to the highest and lowest values, signicant at the level of 0.008 (with an F-value of
excluding outliers (here dened as the values that are out- 4.013). It can be concluded that statistically samples at
side 1.5 box lengths from the upper and lower edges of the the elevation group of 150 m have the highest SOC
box). The line across the box indicates the median. This concentrations in this study. In explanation, it can be
plot shows that the SOC concentrations in the 0 (<24) m assumed that high elevation tends to result in increased
and 50 (2574) m elevation groups are the lowest, and precipitation and decreased temperature; both of these
those in the 150 (> 124) m group are slightly higher. environmental factors tend to favour accumulation of
To better quantify the dierences among the elevation humus (Jenny, 1980), and thus of SOC.
groups, analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied. The Agricultural activities, especially tillage, play an
results show that the observed dierences are signicant important role on SOC concentrations. The proportion
at the level of 0.05. Further analysis of the post hoc test of agricultural land in tillage for each county in Ireland
with Duncans test (Duncan, 1955) was carried out, and in 1964 was calculated based on data from the report of
the results are shown in Table 4. The Kolmogorov Central Statistics Oce, Ireland (CSO, 1965). The aver-
Smirnov test has shown that all the groups have passed age values of Cwb in each county were also calculated. A
the test for normality (P> 0.05). The Levene test has scatter plot of mean Cwb as a proportion of land in til-
lage shows a decreasing trend (Fig. 4). The correlation
coecient is 0.632, which is highly signicant
(P< 0.001).

Fig. 3. Box-plot of SOC in dierent elevation groups (n=50, Fig. 4. Average SOC concentrations in each county as a func-
171, 301, 156 respectively). tion of proportion of agricultural land in tillage (n=27).
1634 D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

Fig. 5. SOC (Cwb) distribution in soils of Ireland and location of spatial outliers.

4. Spatial Distribution of SOC

4.1. Spatial symbol map and spatial outliers of SOC

A point-symbol map of SOC concentrations in grass-

land of Ireland is shown in Fig. 5.
Some possible spatial patterns are identiable on this
map. Western Ireland and the north-eastern part have
relatively high SOC concentrations, while the south-
eastern part and north-western part generally have
lower concentrations of SOC. However, it can be seen
that some locations with high values have points with
low values nearby; in some areas of low values, there are
also some points with high values. This suggests the
presence of spatial outliers which need to be eliminated
prior to estimation of the spatial variogram. Fig. 6. Variogram surface of LnCwb.
D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639 1635

Fig. 7. Isotropic variogram model of LnCwb: (a) spatial outliers excluded (n=639, exponential model: C0=0.05; C0+C=0.11; a=40
km); (b) all samples (n=678).

As described above, in order to avoid introducing of the samples. Some outliers with abnormally lower
bias, spatial outliers were detected using standardized values than the majority of the samples occur in the
local Morans I (Levine, 1999); Samples with values western part, and two samples in the north-eastern
lower than 1.96 were dened as spatial outliers. The part.
calculation was based on the log-transformed Cwb data In order to obtain a robust variogram, the spatial
set. Altogether, 39 spatial outliers were detected (Fig. 5). outliers were excluded in the variogram calculation.
In the south-eastern part of the region, there are some However, all values, including the detected spatial out-
outliers with abnormally higher values than the majority liers, were included in the kriging calculation,

Fig. 8. Cross validation results showing the dierences between the estimated and actual values.
1636 D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

4.2. Spatial structure of SOC The range of 40 km in the model implies that the large-
scale spatial autocorrelation may extend to the eective
The variogram surface of LnCwb is illustrated in range of 120 km. Hence the present sampling density is
Fig. 6. sucient to reveal general patterns but short-range
It can be seen that the variogram is broadly isotropic, variations can only be disclosed by sampling at a higher
with the lowest values located in the centre, and it spatial density. The optimum sampling-scale for SOC in
increases in all the directions with the increase of lag. Irish soils is not known but it will be a compromise
Therefore, the experimental isotropic variogram for between what is most eective and what is feasible.
LnCwb was calculated (Fig. 7). For comparison, the Clearly the mean sampling-interval used here, ca. 7 km,
variogram for all samples (spatial outliers included) is is too great. Van Meirvenne et al. (1996) found in an
also shown in Fig. 7. investigation in Belgium that most of the change occur-
The experimental variogram has been tted with an red within about 4 km, so that the optimum sampling
exponential model. There is a signicant nugget eect of scale is almost certainly less than this.
0.05, which accounts for 45% of the total sill of 0.11. When compared with the variogram for all samples,
This shows that the small-scale variances are quite signicant improvement of the variogram is observed
strong. In this study, only grassland soils had been for the samples with the spatial outliers excluded. The
sampled. It is expected that the small-scale variances variogram for all samples is close to a nugget eect,
would be even stronger if all types of soils were sampled. which is mainly attributed to these spatial outliers.

Fig. 9. Spatial distribution map of SOC concentrations in grassland of Ireland.

D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639 1637

4.3. Spatial distribution of SOC concentrations actual values regardless of sign) of LnCwb is 11.9%, and
the average of relative absolute errors is 15.6%. When
The parameters of the exponential model were used the data are back-transformed to Cwb, the median and
for kriging to produce the spatial distribution map of average value of the relative absolute errors are 18.8 and
SOC concentrations in soils of Ireland. A search region 24.2% respectively.
of 32 nearest-neighbours was applied in order to oset For the spatial interpolation, a cell size of 500500 m
the relatively high nugget eect. To test the eectiveness was chosen to divide the study area into a grid system
of the model, cross validation (i.e., back-calculation of containing 707 rows and 625 columns. Ordinary kriging
the observed values) was carried out with all the samples was used with a block size of 22 and a search neigh-
including spatial outliers. The results are shown in bourhood of 32 nearest-neighbours. The interpolated
Fig. 8. It can be seen that the under-estimated and over- values were then back transformed according lognormal
estimated points are irregularly distributed over the kriging. Fig. 9 shows the nal result of this spatial
study area. The spatial outliers detected using local interpolation process.
Morans I in the eastern part tend to be under-esti- The data range of the interpolated values is from 3.3
mated, while those in the western and northeast parts are to 8.2% Cwb. This is narrower than that of the raw data
over-estimated, which reconrms that they are outliers. set (Table 2), but is to be expected because of the
For the log-transformed data, the median of the relative smoothing eect of the spatial interpolation. However,
absolute errors (the dierence between the estimated and this smoothing eect helps to identify the general spatial

Fig. 10. Hillshade map showing topography of Ireland.

1638 D. McGrath, C. Zhang / Applied Geochemistry 18 (2003) 16291639

patterns and reduces both the local variations and the Research Fund 2002 of National University of Ireland,
negative eect of random errors. The spatial distri- Galway. The raw data sets were provided by TEA-
bution of SOC is generally consistent with elevation GASC. Helpful discussions with Prof. Mcheal O Cin-
(Fig. 10) and precipitation (Rohan, 1975; Collins and neide are acknowledged. The authors are grateful to Dr.
Cummins, 1996) in Ireland. Richard Howarth, Dr. Nils Gustavsson, and an anon-
The highest SOC concentrations are located in the ymous reviewer for their helpful comments and sugges-
western coastal area, where elevation and precipitation are tions to improve this paper.
the highest. In the northern part, there is a relatively high-
concentration area between counties Cavan, Roscommon,
Leitrim and Monaghan. On the eastern side, a small References
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