Soil carbon is a chemical fingerprint for many inter-related processes governed by biogeochemical and landscape-scale phenomena. These inter-related soil processes define the capacity for soil to provide food, fiber, nutrients, water and a balance among land, atmosphere, and terrestrial waters. Soil carbon studied in proper context is indicative of key indicators of soil health, resilience, and security because of its chemical relationship to soil organic matter, water, and nutrients. Soil carbon is also directly attributable to exchanges of CO2 and trace gases between land-water, and land- air systems and therefore is a key component in the regulation of our global climate system.

The International Soil Carbon Network (ISCN) is a science-based network that facilitates data sharing, assembles databases, identifies gaps in data coverage, and enables spatially explicit assessments of soil carbon in context of landscape, climate, land use, and biotic variables. The network provides (1) scientific and logistical infrastructure for sharing knowledge, information, and data, (2) shared data and recognition, and (3) opportunities for synergistic interactions, (4) products beneficial to stakeholders and scientists, (5) a framework for common scientific protocols and collaborative decision support tools

The ISCN relies on support from multinational, private, and governmental entities to support and maintain collaborative efforts of scientists and stakeholders. This support may include facilities for meetings, travel grants, IT expertise, and the many hours of service that form the basis for collaborative science.


The initial idea behind the network came from Chris Swanston, Rich Birdsey, and Jen Harden, who recognized a need for better communication and resource- and data-sharing between the many scientific communities interested in soil carbon. What then began as the (U.S.) National Soil Carbon Network in 2009 was later transformed into the International Soil Carbon Network (ISCN) in 2012 with a unanimous vote by the Scientific Steering Group. The mission and goals were preserved for this transition and were expanded in order to gain a global perspective.


Support for the National Soil Carbon Network included : USDA-NIFA (an AFRI NEE grant for developing the database and hosting workshops), Microsoft Research (in-kind contribution of programmer time for developing the SQL database),  USDA-FS (salary and workshop support), USGS (postdoctoral salary for data contributions to the database), and significant time rendered from scientists contributing data, sharing information, and supporting science activities related to soil carbon.

Leadership was provided by Chris Swanston (USDA Forest Service), who chaired the Scientific Steering Group, and Luke Nave (University of Michigan), who served as network coordinator. Kris Johnson coordinated the early dataset contributions and initiated NSCN with its first NSCN workshop.

Services provided included a Microsoft-based platform for soil data, including carbon, nitrogen, and variety of soil attributes in support of understanding soil carbon budgets; job postings related to soil; communication platforms via list-serves; annual meeting information updates.


Support for ISCN has included USDA-FS (continued support for web, database, and Coordinator salary through 2016); Stanford University (2016 workshop, 2016 annual meeting); Stockholm University (2016, 2017 annual meetings, publications); Univ. Alaska Fairbanks (2017 hackathon, 2017 annual meeting) and significant time rendered from scientists.

Leadership after Dec 2015 was provided by Jennifer Harden (Stanford University and USGS emeritus), Chairing the Scientific Steering Group; Gustaf Hugelius (Stockholm University), co-chairing the Science Steering Group; Kathe Todd-Brown (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and Avni Malhotra (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), co-coordinating the network. Services provided include Microsoft-based ISCN3 database; GIT repositories for accessing ISCN3 data plus ISCN4 datasets; GIT repositories for accessing specific new datasets in terminologies similar to ISCN3.

Opportunities for targeted engagement are available through requests to form Action Groups and/or lead meta-data analysis, both of which can be attained through participation in the annual all-hands meeting.