Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ensemble Machine Learning Approach Improves Predicted Spatial Variation of Surface Soil Organic Carbon Stocks in Data-Limited Northern Circumpolar Region


Various approaches of differing mathematical complexities are being applied for spatial prediction of soil properties. Regression kriging is a widely used hybrid approach of spatial variation that combines correlation between soil properties and environmental factors with spatial autocorrelation between soil observations. In this study, we compared four machine learning approaches (gradient boosting machine, multinarrative adaptive regression spline, random forest, and support vector machine) with regression kriging to predict the spatial variation of surface (0-30 cm) soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks at 250-m spatial resolution across the northern circumpolar permafrost region. We combined 2,374 soil profile observations (calibration datasets) with georeferenced datasets of environmental factors (climate, topography, land cover, bedrock geology, and soil types) to predict the spatial variation of surface SOC stocks. We evaluated the prediction accuracy at randomly selected sites (validation datasets) across the study area. We found that different techniques inferred different numbers of environmental factors and their relative importance for prediction of SOC stocks. Regression kriging produced lower prediction errors in comparison to multinarrative adaptive regression spline and support vector machine, and comparable prediction accuracy to gradient boosting machine and random forest. However, the ensemble median prediction of SOC stocks obtained from all four machine learning techniques showed highest prediction accuracy. Although the use of different approaches in spatial prediction of soil properties will depend on the availability of soil and environmental datasets and computational resources, we conclude that the ensemble median prediction obtained from multiple machine learning approaches provides greater spatial details and produces the highest prediction accuracy. Thus an ensemble prediction approach can be a better choice than any single prediction technique for predicting the spatial variation of SOC stocks.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View