Soil is often considered as the skin of the Earth and is located at the interface between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. Soil is the physical and nutritional support for living organisms in emerged areas.
From another point of view, soil is the basis for the production of food, fibre, medicines, fuel and ecosystem resources or services. However, soil is a limited resource because of its low formation rate and finite area of land. Although human activity has always contributed to soil degradation, the pressure on soil resources has particularly increased over the last century. This is because of the intensification of crops and productive activities, reduction of forest and natural areas and the expansion of urban areas. About a third of the world soil surface is moderately or severely affected by physical (erosion, compaction) and chemical degradation processes (salinity, acidification, loss of nutrients or pollution).
There is now an increasingly important consensus on soil’s value as a productive resource and basis of ecosystems. Increasing investment in research, education and awareness programs and sustainable development are some of the ways to halt land degradation and promote the restoration of degraded areas.
Current EU policy
Although agriculture and forests occupy 78% of the surface of the EU, currently there is not any clearly established soil policy in the EU, and only some member states have approved legislation. Though there are EU guidelines and policies on agriculture, water resources and pollution, lack of European legislation on soil does not ensure an adequate level of protection in Europe. However, the clear risk to achieve objectives on biodiversity and climate change led the EU to establish a Soil Thematic Strategy (2006) on soil protection (the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive was withdrawn in May 2014). The Seventh Environment Action Programme recognises the progress made in the last decades, but still considers soil degradation risk as a serious problem, and that "unsustainable land use is consuming fertile soils, and soil degradation continues, resulting in impacts on global food security and the achievement of biodiversity targets".
The development of specific soil policies for prevention and remediation is considered essential for sustainable development plans. Future research should contribute to the identification of risks (water and wind erosion, floods, organic matter decline, soil compaction and chemical degradation) and restoration (reclamation and restoration of degraded soils and fire-affected areas). Specific policies should include:
- the fight against deforestation and over exploitation of soil resources;
- soil erosion control in arid and semiarid areas;
- the co-ordination of soil maps;
- inventories of soil risk areas.
This is particularly prevalent in the context of climate change, the role played by soil as a resource for carbon sequestration, and mitigation of global warming should be attended. Given the integrative nature of soils, it is necessary to improve the transfer of knowledge through knowledge brokers with a soil background. For these reasons, member states are called to support and develop erosion control, carbon sequestration and restoration plans. In addition, promoting educational programs at all levels and emphasising practical, down-to-earth examples is considered key for developing social awareness on soil problems.
EGU soil research areas
The Soil System Sciences division of the EGU is constituted by eleven subdivisions, according to the major themes and projects in this area:
- history, education and society of soil science
- land degradation and soil conservation
- soil as a record of the past
- soil biology, microbiology and biodiversity
- soil chemistry
- soil organic matter
- soil physics
- soil pollution and reclamation
- soil, environment and ecosystem interactions
- soils, forestry and agriculture
- informatics and statistics
Recent EGU papers
- Soil and crop management practices and the water regulation functions of soils: a qualitative synthesis of meta-analyses relevant to European agriculture (SOIL, 2023)
- Transforming living labs into lighthouses: a promising policy to achieve land-related sustainable development (SOIL, 2022)
- Agricultural intensification vs. climate change: what drives long-term changes in sediment load? (HESS, 2022)
- Effects of climate change in European croplands and grasslands: productivity, greenhouse gas balance and soil carbon storage (BG, 2022)
- Soil carbon loss in warmed subarctic grasslands is rapid and restricted to topsoil (BG, 2022)
- Biogeosciences: http://www.biogeosciences.net
- Earth Surface Dynamics: http://www.earth-surface-dynamics.net
- European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/index_en.htm
- European Union Law: http://eur-lex.europa.eu
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org
- SOIL: http://www.soil-journal.net
- Solid Earth: http://www.solid-earth.net
With special thanks to Dr Antonio Jordán, researcher at the Universidad de Sevilla, Spain, for drafting this webpage.
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