The Mission of the International Soil Carbon Network (ISCN) is to improve the understanding of carbon dynamics in soils across the world — including the spatial and temporal distribution and stability of carbon forms — through a soil carbon network.


The International Soil Carbon Network (ISCN) is a multi-component, science-based network that facilitates data sharing, assembles databases, identifies and fills gaps in data coverage, and through modeling and experimentation provides spatially explicit assessments of soil carbon turnover and vulnerability. The magnitude of this effort necessitates an exceptional level of scientific cooperation. The formal network provides (1) a framework for common scientific protocols and collaborative decision support tools, (2) shared scientific and logistical infrastructure, (3) products beneficial to stakeholders and scientists, (4) shared data and recognition, and (5) opportunities for synergistic interactions.

Why soil carbon? Soil is a vital national resource and soil carbon is an integral component of soil structure and function. Soil is the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon, containing an estimated 1550 Pg of organic carbon in the top meter alone. Soil contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere (800 Pg in 2007), and three times that in global vegetation (~500 Pg). Although the global stock of soil carbon is immense, it is not static: about 120 Pg of carbon moves annually between soil and the carbon reservoirs in the atmosphere and vegetation. Soil carbon may thus play a singular but uncertain role in climate forcing during the coming decades, with significant net losses contributing to positive feedbacks, or significant sequestration helping to mitigate climate forcing. Though important, climate regulation is not the only service provided by soil carbon. In fact, carbon held in soils provides a number of essential other services (i.e., ecosystem services) that either directly or indirectly support human well-being. For example, carbon held in soils plays a vital role in the improvement soil tilth, retention and supply of plant nutrients, isolation and decomposition of wastes and toxic substances, production of food and fiber, water retention and supply, flood protection, reduction of wind and water erosion, and maintenance of biodiversity. The loss of soil carbon or disruption of its cycling may impair the ecosystem services it provides, with consequent negative impacts on society.


1) Coordinate soil carbon observation, archiving, experimentation, and modeling. 2) Understand the relationship between soil carbon and ecosystem services. 3) Forecast soil carbon vulnerability under changing climate, land use, and other disturbance. 4) Contribute to organizing and communicating this information for land managers, modelers, and policy makers.


Individuals wishing to participate in Network activities or utilize shared resources are strongly encouraged to formally join this community. The intent of membership in the ISCN is to facilitate efficient communication, information sharing, use, and scientific progress; general membership is open to all scientists and users committed to documenting, evaluating, and sharing information relating to soil carbon dynamics. Members have access to ISCN data resources and may apply for access to shared infrastructure such as laboratories. Members are expected to contribute to the Network in exchange for utilizing its shared resources, whether by sharing expertise or data, laboratory or field infrastructure, soil archives, or developing synthesis products.


The ISCN is self-chartered and is the result of the interest from research scientists associated with academic, government, and private institutions. The ISCN SSG develops the scientific questions and structure of the Network and provides scientific leadership in support of the community. The responsibilities of the ISCN SSG are to:

  • Provide scientific leadership and guide the direction of the ISCN
  • Promote and organize workshops, synthesis activities, meetings and discussions that support the ISCN
  • Define and strengthen the infrastructure of ISCN, through the use of mechanisms such as interagency agreements and memoranda of understanding
  • Develop protocols for Network membership, data sharing, the soil carbon database, and the soil archive
  • Guide the development of metadata standards and selection of appropriate methods for studies contributing to the ISCN
  • Review the content of the ISCN website
  • Review and approve proposals that seek subsidy or other support from the ISCN
  • Provide data in a useable form to strengthen support tools that inform decision and policy regarding soil carbon
  • Communicate on the progress of the ISCN to the public, Network members, stakeholders, the scientific community and science panels involved in carbon cycle and ecosystem science, and leaders of key agencies and institutions

SSG membership and Chair positions are replaced by nomination and election by SSG members. One year prior to the expiration of the ISCN SSG Chair’s term, a chair designee will be nominated and selected by majority vote. There are no term limits on SSG memberships or chairmanship. The SSG Chair has the authority to appoint a Co-Chair to share in responsibilities.


The ISCN SSG meets annually to review policies and progress, plan activities, and set priorities. Notes from annual meetings are posted on the ISCN website. Programmatic decisions require majority vote by the SSG. Up to two invited guests may attend each meeting. Based on SSG decisions, smaller groups of the SSG and ISCN members may meet more frequently to further progress of specific tasks. Actions or Motions raised by a sub-group outside areas of pre-approval will be communicated to the SSG via email, website, or conference call for approval.


Amendments to this charter may be proposed by ISCN general members and reviewed by SSG members for implementation once the SSG achieves a consensus vote on the changes.