SLU news

Clear connection between climate and soil water permeability - or is it?

Published: 31 January 2024
A man kneeling in a field, inspecting a water meter.

A new meta-analysis of 466 studies shows that climate is linked to soil water permeability, challenging the dominant explanation. At the same time, the researchers suspect that there is another explanation hidden behind the data. - 'If we can understand the factors that influence soil water permeability, it could help society to better manage large amounts of rainfall,' says John Koestel, researcher at SLU and Agroscope in Switzerland.

In a new study, researchers from SLU and Agroscope have analyzed large amounts of data from cultivated and non-cultivated soils throughout the world. Specifically, they have studied the water permeability of water-saturated soil and soil that is almost water-saturated.

The results show a clear connection between climate and soil water permeability. Thus, it appears that climate affects how well the soil can absorb, hold, and conduct water. However, according to the study, there is no causal relationship between climate and soil water permeability.

- We believe that roots and organisms living in the soil, such as earthworms and ants, are behind the connection. So, it is likely that the climate affects how the structure of the soil develops, and which organisms live there, says John Koestel.

The researchers believe that activities performed by soil organisms, such as burrowing tunnels in the soil, build soil structure and foster water permeability. They also believe that soil use and soil type play a role in explaining the connection. The data was not sufficient to answer these questions, but they hope to explore this shortly.

- With climate change, extreme weather will become more frequent. When we have heavy and dense rainfall such as in the summer of 2023, we need to understand if and how we can prepare the soil to handle the amount of water in the most risk-free way possible, says John Koestel.

Scientific Article

Impacts of soil management and climate on saturated and near-saturated hydraulic  conductivity: analyses of the Open Tension-disk Infiltrometer Meta-database (OTIM)


Soil Structure

Soil is a system of tiny, tiny pathways between minerals and organic matter where air and water can move freely and give life to plants and animals. These small passages form the structure of the soil, i.e. the physical composition of soil such as sand or clay. The water permeability of the soil is directly dependent on good soil structure. With good soil structure, we can better manage and prevent flooding, soil erosion, and nutrient leaching.

About the scientific article

The study is a result of the CLIMASOMA project, which is part of the EJP SOIL research program.

EJP SOIL is a European research program for climate-smart and sustainable agriculture. The program runs between 2020 - 2025 and involves 26 universities and research institutes in 24 countries. The aim is to develop knowledge, tools, and a research network to promote climate-smart and sustainable use of agricultural land. The Department of Soil and Environment coordinates the program in Sweden.


john koestel. portrait. John Koestel
Researcher in Biogeophysics at the Department of Soil and Environment
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