What is the impact of human wastewater biosolids (sewage sludge) application on long-term soil carbon sequestration rates? A systematic review protocol


Human wastewater biosolids, hereafter referred to as biosolids, are produced in significant quantities around the world and often applied to an extensive land mass including agricultural fields, forests, mine lands, and urban areas. Land-application of biosolids has been reported in peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed work to change soil organic carbon stocks in varying amounts. Determining the potential of soil organic carbon (SOC) stock change and sequestration from biosolids land application is critical for biosolids producers and users to gain access to carbon credit markets. Our review question is, “what is the impact of biosolids application on long-term soil carbon sequestration rates?” We look to explore this main question with the follow-up, “does biosolids processing methods and characteristics, application method, soil properties, land management and other modifiers affect rates of carbon accumulation from land-applied biosolids?”


Searches will be conducted using online databases (i.e., Web of Science Core Collection, CAB Abstracts, Scopus, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global), search engines (Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic), and specialist websites to find primary field studies and grey literature of biosolids land-application effects on soil organic carbon stocks. We will use English search terms and predefined inclusion criteria of: (1) a field study of at least 24 months that reports soil organic carbon/matter (SOC/SOM) concentrations/stocks; (2) has two types of treatments: (i) a control (non-intervention AND/OR synthetic fertilizer) AND (ii) a biosolids-based amendment; and (3) information of amendment properties and application dates and rates to estimate the relative contribution of the applied materials to SOC changes. We will screen results in two stages: (1) title and abstract and (2) full text. A 10% subset will be screened by two reviewers for inclusion at the title and abstract level and use a kappa analysis to ensure agreement of at least 0.61. All results in the full text stage will be dual screened. Data will be extracted by one person and reviewed by a second person. Critical appraisal will be used to assess studies’ potential bias and done by two reviewers. A meta-analysis using random effects models will be conducted if sufficient data of high enough quality are extracted.


Land application, Meta-analysis, Sewage sludge, Soil organic carbon, Soil organic matter

In progress