Pedotransfer Functions in Earth System Science: Challenges and Perspectives

Kris Van Looy, Johan Bouma, Michael Herbst, John Koestel, Budiman Minasny, Umakant Mishra, Carsten Montzka, Attila Nemes, Yakov A. Pachepsky, José Padarian, Marcel G. Schaap, Brigitta Tóth, Anne Verhoef, Jan Vanderborght, Martine J. van der Ploeg, Lutz Weihermüller, Steffen Zacharias, Yonggen Zhang, Harry Vereecken

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

317 Scopus citations


Soil, through its various functions, plays a vital role in the Earth's ecosystems and provides multiple ecosystem services to humanity. Pedotransfer functions (PTFs) are simple to complex knowledge rules that relate available soil information to soil properties and variables that are needed to parameterize soil processes. In this paper, we review the existing PTFs and document the new generation of PTFs developed in the different disciplines of Earth system science. To meet the methodological challenges for a successful application in Earth system modeling, we emphasize that PTF development has to go hand in hand with suitable extrapolation and upscaling techniques such that the PTFs correctly represent the spatial heterogeneity of soils. PTFs should encompass the variability of the estimated soil property or process, in such a way that the estimation of parameters allows for validation and can also confidently provide for extrapolation and upscaling purposes capturing the spatial variation in soils. Most actively pursued recent developments are related to parameterizations of solute transport, heat exchange, soil respiration, and organic carbon content, root density, and vegetation water uptake. Further challenges are to be addressed in parameterization of soil erosivity and land use change impacts at multiple scales. We argue that a comprehensive set of PTFs can be applied throughout a wide range of disciplines of Earth system science, with emphasis on land surface models. Novel sensing techniques provide a true breakthrough for this, yet further improvements are necessary for methods to deal with uncertainty and to validate applications at global scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1199-1256
Number of pages58
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • biogeochemical processes
  • extrapolation
  • heat flow
  • hydraulic properties
  • land surface model
  • soil properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


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