Soil is a natural medium composed of mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. It is essentially a non-renewable resource which performs many vital functions: food and other biomass production, and storage, filtration and the transformation of numerous substances including water, carbon, nitrogen and other key nutrients. Due to human activities and natural disasters soil degradation is accelerating in many areas, with negative effects on human health, natural ecosystems, climate change, and the economy.
Soil data and information play a crucial role in the development and implementation of EU policies and global multilateral agreements. The JRC provides assessments of available soil resources at the global scale and acts as a single focal point for soil data and information linked to climate change, biodiversity and desertification, for use by the Commission and others. The JRC also helps the EU Member States to fulfil their assessment obligations regarding their soil resources.
Soil data and information sharing
Soil processes underpin several economic activities (such as agriculture, energy production and construction), environmental services (e.g. flood protection, climate change and biodiversity) and many cultural activities (e.g. tourism, leisure). Despite its fundamental role, soil degradation generally goes unnoticed and land management, which is the prime pressure on the soil resource, is becoming an increasing societal challenge in the EU and beyond.
A full assessment of available soil resources at the global scale, and the pressures acting on them, is therefore essential. Through the establishment of the European Soil Data Centre and the European Soil Portal, the JRC provides a single focal point for updated soil data and information for the European Commission and EU Member States.
Soil awareness raising
The Soil Thematic Strategy draws attention to the lack of public awareness about the importance of soil and the need to improve knowledge sharing on best practices to fill this gap. The JRC's European Soil Bureau Network has established a Working Group on Public Awareness and Educational Initiatives for Soil. This group, together with other partners such as the European Land and Soil Alliance, aims to improve this situation through measures targeted to key sectors (policy makers, the general public, education, land managers, etc.).
The JRC reviews current soil education and awareness raising programmes and how accessible they are to the general public. It has developed a multi-lingual resource base of publicly available educational material on the role of soils in society. JRC activities also include the coordination, promotion and provision of support materials to soil awareness activities across Europe, through events, campaigns, workshops with partners, the organisation of school visits and Soil Surveys to provide specific training to young researchers.
Soil and food security
Pressure on the world's soil resources and land degradation are threatening global food security. In Africa, 500 million hectares of land have been affected by soil degradation and 75% of all agricultural soil is degraded, predominantly as a result of poor/unsuitable management.
International efforts are urgently needed to ensure sufficient fertile and healthy soils today and for future generations.
The JRC supports the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the establishment and operation of the Global Soil Partnership for Food Security and Global Change, which helps maximise economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of vital environmental systems.
Soil is a limited resource. European environment policy seeks to ensure its protection from contamination, erosion, loss of soil biodiversity and organic matter, which is supported by JRC’s modelling expertise.
A rich biodiversity in the soil provides many benefits to ecosystems, contributing to a range of services such as food production, water filtration and nutrient cycling. The JRC supports this by monitoring and assessing the state of soil biodiversity.
The JRC uses advanced modelling techniques, indicators and scenario analyses to provide information to end users about the major threats to soil, including loss of soil biodiversity.
The JRC has created a Biodiversity Expert Group to develop a soil biodiversity inventory for Europe. This inventory will help to evaluate and harmonise ongoing soil monitoring activities in the EU and to raise awareness about soil biodiversity.
In 2010, the JRC published the first European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity which highlights the potential threats to soil biodiversity from multiple factors, including land use change, habitat disruption, intensive use, invasive species, soil compaction, erosion and pollution. The atlas provides a comprehensive source of information which helps the general public, researchers, teachers, land managers and policy makers to raise awareness about the environmental importance of soil biodiversity and guides them in protecting this crucial resource.
Red soil exposed with grass on top