The oxidative ratio (OR) of the net ecosystem carbon balance is the ratio of net O2 and CO2 fluxes resulting from photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, and other lateral and vertical carbon flows. The OR of the terrestrial biosphere must be well characterized to accurately estimate the terrestrial CO2 sink using atmospheric measurements of changing O2 and CO2 levels. To estimate the OR of the terrestrial biosphere, measurements are needed of changes in the OR of aboveground and belowground carbon pools associated with decadal timescale disturbances (e.g., land use change and fire). The OR of aboveground pools can be measured using conventional approaches including elemental analysis. However, measuring the OR of soil carbon pools is technically challenging, and few soil OR data are available. In this paper we test three solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques for measuring soil OR, all based on measurements of the closely related parameter, organic carbon oxidation state (Cox). Two of the three techniques make use of a molecular mixing model which converts NMR spectra into concentrations of a standard suite of biological molecules of known C ox. The third technique assigns Cox values to each peak in the NMR spectrum. We assess error associated with each technique using pure chemical compounds and plant biomass standards whose Cox and OR values can be directly measured by elemental analyses. The most accurate technique, direct polarization solid-state 13C NMR with the molecular mixing model, agrees with elemental analyses to ??0.036 Cox units (??0.009 OR units). Using this technique, we show a large natural variability in soil Cox and OR values. Soil Cox values have a mean of -0.26 and a range from -0.45 to 0.30, corresponding to OR values of 1.08 ?? 0.06 and a range from 0.96 to 1.22. We also estimate the OR of the carbon flux from a boreal forest fire. Analysis of soils from nearby intact soil profiles imply that soil carbon losses associated with the fire had an OR of 1.091 (??0.003). Fire appears to be a major factor driving the soil C pool to higher oxidation states and lower OR values. Episodic fluxes caused by disturbances like fire may have substantially different ORs from ecosystem respiration fluxes and therefore should be better quantified to reduce uncertainties associated with our understanding of the global atmospheric carbon budget. Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union.