Monday, 10 July 2006 - 10:50 AM

European Soil Science in Support of the EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection.

Luca Montanarella, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra, 21020, Italy

The development of effective soil protection strategies requires a strong scientific knowledge of soil functioning and properties. Understanding the full cycle of Driving forces, Pressures, Status, Impacts and Responses (DPSIR) within a highly complex environmental compartment like soil is a challenging task for soil science. Unfortunately, providing policy relevant soil information to policy makers and other stakeholders has been traditionally a weak point of the soil science community. The European soil scientists have attempted over the past ten years to bridge the gap between soil science and policy makers by developing a large network of soil research institutions in support of European soil policy development. The network is known as the European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN) and is coordinated by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. The main task of the network has been the development of the European Soil Information System (EUSIS) as the main source of policy relevant soil information in Europe. The backbone of EUSIS is the European soil database at 1:1,000,000 scale and its derived products, like the Pan-European Soil Erosion Risk Assessment (PESERA) or other thematic maps, like distribution of topsoil organic carbon, susceptibility to subsoil compaction, etc... One of the long-term goals of the EUSIS is the full integration of the National and local soil data into a common coherent system of soil information for Europe. A first prototype of such a multi-scale soil information system has been developed and can be accessed from the EU soil portal ( The implementation of the EU thematic strategy for soil protection will further increase the demand for policy relevant soil information. Especially the delineation of areas at risk by the major threats to soils, as identified by the strategy (erosion, decline of soil organic carbon, compaction, salinisation and landslides), will require further development of the system. The establishment of a new European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC) should facilitate the implementation of the planned soil protection measures as well as monitoring and reporting of the achieved results in soil protection in Europe. More detailed soil information at scales of 1:250,000 or larger will be required, as well as new digital soil mapping techniques for the derivation of thematic products for the policy making community. The European Union has also important commitment at global scale requiring the elaboration of soil information products suitable for the various Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA's) we have ratified. The most relevant are the UNFCCC and its Kyoto protocol, the CBD and the UNCCD. All three so-called Rio Conventions have important implications for soil protection at global scale. At the core of the current debate there is the role of soil organic matter within all three conventions: Within the Kyoto protocol in relation to the relevant capacity of soils as a potential sink for atmospheric CO2; within the biodiversity convention in relation to the large pool of genetic resources in soils, most of which still to be fully studied; within the desertification convention in relation to the role of soil protection as one of the main options towards poverty reduction. The development of a global soil information system is therefore also an important aspect of the development of the European Soil Data Centre. A first global archive of soil maps has been completed jointly with ISRIC and can be fully accessed over the EU soil portal. Further developments will include the extension of the EUSIS to cover Eurasia, South America and Africa, as well as a stronger partnership with similar soil data holding institutions within the OECD countries and with FAO and UNEP. The final goal of achieving a fully functioning global soil information system supporting the implementation of effective soil protection policies, both at national as well as at the international level, seems still far away. Nevertheless, a joint effort of the European Union together with the other major players in the world may bring the achievement of such a tool closer to reality and will certainly contribute to strengthen soil protection in the future.

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