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Can soil smell tell us something about soil practices?

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

Citation:  2022 ASABE Annual International Meeting  2200526.(doi:10.13031/aim.202200526)
Authors:   Darcy Bonds, Jacek A Koziel, Baitong Chen, Christian Haffner, Hailee Christensen, Teresa E Middleton, Marshall D McDaniel, Amy Kaleita, Adina Howe
Keywords:   aroma, moisture, olfactometry, petrichor, sensory analyses, soil health, solid-phase microextraction, volatile organic compounds.

Abstract. Anecdotes of healthy soil often include the pleasant smell of soil after rain, known as "petrichor". It seems intuitive that a healthy soil should have a more pleasant smell. In this research, we hypothesized that the smell of soil is directly linked with soil health-promoting practices, specifically that healthier soils would have a more pleasant smell than unhealthy ones. Thus, conducted a lab-scale proof-of-concept experiment to test the link of the perceived smell with prior soil health management practices. Research objectives were to 1) establish a link between soil smell and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from soil and 2) test the effect of soil moisture content on soil smell over time. Soils were incubated, and headspace gases were collected with solid-phase microextraction (SPME) samplers. Headspace gases were then analyzed with a simultaneous chemical and sensory approach using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry-olfactometry (GC-MS-O). For Objective 1, a connection was established between the characteristic smell of soil headspace and the VOCs emitted. Similarities and differences between aromas and VOCs were identified for each soil health-promoting practice when compared against a base-line soil, with healthy soils smelling more bitter than unhealthy soils. For Objective 2, it was shown that higher amounts of soil moisture content significantly decrease the VOCs emitted and the overall character and intensity of soil aroma over time. Soil moisture at 25% volumetric hydration produced the most unique VOC signatures.

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