Winfried E.H. Blum, Institute for Soil Science, Univ of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Peter Jordan-Strasse. 82, Vienna, Austria
Discussing basic soil science research in Europe is not an easy task, because funding is mostly local or national and therefore no clear insight into the very diverse research topics is possible. However, the actual trend indicates that through the availability of new methods from basic physics, physico-chemistry and microbiology, new frontiers are developing in soil science, ranging from molecular modelling, in co-operation with theoretical physico-chemistry and computation sciences, analysing the specific binding processes between organic and mineral structures, soil as sink and source for CO2, climate change and soil organic carbon, soil and natural hazards, to the role of hydrophobic or hydrophilic surface structures on soil processes, and others. A new aspect is the increasing co-operation between different soil disciplines, e.g. soil physics, soil micromorphology, soil mineralogy, soil chemistry, and soil microbiology, looking into the relationship between soil structure (microstructure) and processes between solid, liquid and gaseous soil phases in the pore space. Much easier is an insight into soil science research funded by the European Commission, which is mainly characterised by integration of soil science into multidisciplinary approaches within natural sciences, e.g. sedimentology, hydrology, and others. One good example is "AquaTerra", a multidisciplinary project with about 50 partners, ranging from hydrologists, mineralogists, chemists, microbiologists, soil scientists to toxicologists and others, investigating the basic processes occurring between soil, sediment and water at river basin scale, including contamination issues. A new project proposal aims at risk based management of the soil-sediment-water system at river basin scale, in which also social and economic sciences are involved. Generally there is a clear trend towards soil ecological research, looking into soil characteristics and processes under aspects of environmental protection. In the year 2002, ministers of the environment of 15 European countries signed a document entitled "Towards a thematic strategy for soil protection" in Europe, defining 5 main soil functions and 8 threats to soil, including erosion, loss of organic matter, contamination (diffuse and local), compaction, loss of biodiversity, salinisation, sealing, floods and landslides. Under this umbrella, more than 450 soil scientists and those from other areas, joined in 5 technical working groups during 2 years, aiming at defining new soil monitoring systems, and analyzing the actual state of the 8 different threats and their impacts to soil, including gaps in soil science research in Europe. Under "soil research", not only new research targets were defined, but also new concepts, based on the DPSIR-approach, distinguishing different main research clusters, which are following the political cycle, integrating ecological, technical, economic, social, legistic and cultural sciences. This means that the main target of soil research in Europe at the moment is soil protection under environmental aspects, due to severe soil losses by sealing and diverse soil degradation processes occurring in this densely populated region of the world.