Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ingrid Kögel-Knabner1

1Carl von Linde Senior Fellow at TUM Institute of Advanced Study


Soil is build of a dynamic and hierarchically organized system of various organic and inorganic constituents and organisms, the spatial structure of which defines a large, complex and heterogeneous biogeochemical interface. Recent evidence shows a zonation of fine soil particle surfaces into key sites with high OM sequestration in multi-layered stacked OM patches decoupled from the mineral surface area. We explain why soils, even if they contain less fine minerals and particulate OM than others, can store substantial amounts of stacked OM piled-up through their three-dimensional arrangement. This sustains a coexistence of soil functions provided by mineral surfaces beyond OM sequestration. We provide a new concept for patchy, piled-up OM sequestration in soil microstructures independent from the specific mineral surface area. This opens new perspectives for the potential of soils to sequester organic carbon. A significantly advanced understanding of the structure, dynamics and functioning of the soil architecture holds the promise to explain organic matter stabilizations within a general mechanistic framework and thus will launch the integration of this information into field-scale concepts and models of CO2 sequestration in soils.


Ingrid Kögel-Knabner studied geoecology at the University of Bayreuth, where she also obtained a doctorate in soil science (1987) and habilitation (1992). In 1991 she received a professorship for soil science and soil ecology at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Since 1995 she serves at the Chair of soil science of the Technical University of Munich TUM. Since 2011 she is Carl von Linde Senior Fellow at TUM Institute of Advanced Study. She is member of the Editorial Board of several high-impact soil science journals. Since 2015, she has been on the list of “Highly Cited Researchers”, belonging to the most cited scientists in the world.

Ingrid Kögel-Knabner’s work is dedicated to understanding the formation and properties of soil organic matter as a major component of soils, and its central role in the terrestrial carbon cycle. Her work focusses specifically on soil structure and the biogeochemical soil interface formed by the interaction of organic matter with the soil mineral phase. The challenge to be coped with is the transition of methods which have been designed and developed for pure systems to the extremely complex, often amorphous natural materials found in soils. By applying a spectrum of sophisticated techniques (solid-state 13C NMR spectroscopy, chemolytic methods with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating, scanning electron microscopy SEM, NanoSIMS) the elucidation of soil organic matter structure, interactions and turnover can be brought a step forward.

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