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News article5 December 2019

Ten years of LUCAS soil sampling

LUCAS has been sampling EU soils since 2009
© mythja –

The Land Use/Cover Area frame Survey (LUCAS) - the largest ever consistent survey of European soils - marks its 10th anniversary this year.

LUCAS is an extensive soil survey that gathers samples of soils from across the European Union (EU) every three years to assess the condition of EU soils and the impacts of land management.

Coordinated by the JRC, LUCAS Soil is the largest harmonised and regularly updated assessment of soils for the entire EU.

Its aim is to construct a pan-European topsoil database, which can serve as a baseline for EU-wide soil monitoring.

The largest expandable soil dataset for Europe

Three LUCAS surveys have been carried out over the past 10 years, collecting samples of EU topsoil in 2009/2012 (22,000 samples), 2015 (23,000 samples) and 2018 (26,000 samples).

The soil samples, about 0.5kg each, are stored and analysed in a central laboratory, and the analysed data are hosted by the European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC).

The analyses provide harmonised information for studying a range of socio-environmental challenges, such as climate change, soil degradation and biodiversity conservation.

In the 2009/2012 and 2015 campaigns, the samples were analysed for their physio-chemical properties, including, pH, organic carbon, nutrient levels and cation exchange capacity.

Additional properties were analysed in the 2018 campaign, including bulk density, soil biodiversity, pesticide residues and soil erosion.

New analysis parameters and sampling locations can be added to meet policy demands. This, together with the regularity and expansion of sampling locations, gives LUCAS the potential to be the largest harmonised and expandable soil dataset in Europe, and maybe even in the world.

© European Union, 2019

Soil – a vital yet fragile resource

Healthy soils are essential to life as we know it.

They are fundamental to food production, provide a plethora of vital functions such as water purification, climate regulation and flood protection, and provide the habitat necessary for biodiversity and preserving our cultural heritage.

As the formation of soil is an extremely slow process in the context of human lifetimes, it is considered to be a non-renewable resource.

It is therefore extremely precious and should be nurtured, protected and carefully managed, as recognised by the EU’s Soil Thematic Strategy (COM(2006) 231), the 7th Environment Action Programme and, more recently, the European Commission’s European Green Deal.

LUCAS – a starting point for a harmonised system for monitoring soil across Europe

While there is still no formal mechanism in place for the systematic monitoring and protection of soil quality across Europe, the Report on the implementation of the Soil Thematic Strategy (COM(2012) 46) noted that results from LUCAS could be a starting point for a harmonised system of monitoring.

The LUCAS Topsoil Surveys of 2015 and 2018 are a consequence of the need for the systematic monitoring of soil in Europe.

How LUCAS data are used

LUCAS dataset is completely open access. Therefore, LUCAS data provide a rich source of information for policymakers and the research community for a range of topics, including agriculture, the environment, climate change, land use and biodiversity. Interested researchers can also physically access the LUCAS soil archive to collect samples for developing their own projects and collaborations with the JRC soil team.

LUCAS data can be used in various EU policy areas, for example:

Using LUCAS data to measure soil biodiversity

The LUCAS samples are currently being used to carry out the first pan-European assessment of soil biodiversity and one of the largest continental assessments of soil life at the global scale.

As part of this assessment, the JRC is working on indicators of soil biodiversity based on the DNA extracted from 1,000 of the 2018 LUCAS soil samples, which aim to match soil biodiversity to land management practices and soil properties.

The indicators will focus particularly on exploring the distribution of both microorganisms and eukaryotes in different climate regions, and how land cover and land use impact their diversity across the EU.

This will inform the new Commission’s European Green Deal, which aims to preserve Europe’s natural environment and will include a biodiversity strategy for 2030, with a view to the EU taking a leading role in protecting soil biodiversity at the United Nations' biodiversity summit in 2020.

Further information

Related Content

LUCAS: Land Use and Coverage Area frame Survey

LUCAS Soil, the largest expandable soil dataset for Europe: a review

How the largest European soil dataset was born

World Soil Day 2018 – the LUCAS 2018 Soil Survey dishes up the dirt

European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC)

Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (COM(2006) 231)


Publication date
5 December 2019