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The Nose Knows! Interactions between soil smell and soil health

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan www.asabe.org

Citation:  2021 ASABE Annual International Virtual Meeting  2100272.(doi:10.13031/aim.202100272)
Authors:   Darcy G Bonds, Jacek A Koziel, Baitong Chen, Christian Haffner, Hailee Christensen, Marshall McDaniel, Chumki Banik, Amy Kaleita, Adina Howe
Keywords:   Aroma, moisture, microbes, olfactometry, petrichor, sensory analyses, soil health, solid-phase microextraction, volatile organic compounds.

Abstract. Soil is absolutely essential to many aspects of our everyday lives, yet the methods used to measure “soil health” have been challenged on the basis of their cost and practicality. Ideally, measurements of soil health could be utilized by everyone in the industry as opposed to primarily skilled workers. Previous field experience and research have often suggested that soil smell could be a good indicator for soil quality. However, little is understood about the causes of soil smell and the specific information that it may carry. Our working hypothesis is that the smell of soil is directly linked with soil health. Our research objectives are to 1) obtain data on the link between soil smell and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from soil and 2) test the effect of soil moisture on soil smell over time. Soils were obtained representing a range of soil health scenarios. Soils from both objectives were incubated and then analyzed for chemical and sensory properties of associated soil gases. We expect to develop a connection between the characteristic smell of soil headspace and the VOCs emitted. For Objective 2 we expect that different soil moisture contents will significantly impact the VOCs emitted and overall smell of soil over time. We recommend that a more in-depth study be performed to specifically investigate the effect of soil microbes on soil smell and soil quality. Overall, our study suggests that soil smell is linked to soil health.

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