Soil Themes > Soil Erosion
Soil erosion is a natural process, occurring over geological time, and indeed it is a process that is essential for soil formation in the first place. With respect to soil degradation, most concerns about erosion are related to accelerated erosion, where the natural rate has been significantly increased mostly by human activity. Soil erosion by water is a widespread problem throughout Europe.
The processes of soil erosion involve detachment of material by two processes, raindrop impact and flow traction; and transported either by saltation through the air or by overland water flow. Runoff is the most important direct driver of severe soil erosion by water and therefore processes that influence runoff play an important role in any analysis of soil erosion intensity.
By removing the most fertile topsoil, erosion reduces soil productivity and, where soils are shallow, may lead to an irreversible loss of natural farmland. Even where soil depth is good, loss of the topsoil is often not conspicuous but nevertheless potentially very damaging. Severe erosion is commonly associated with the development of temporary or permanently eroded channels or gullies that can fragment farmland. The soil removed by runoff from the land, for example during a large storm, accumulates below the eroded areas, in severe cases blocking roadways or drainage channels and inundating buildings.
Erosion rate is very sensitive to both climate and land use, as well as to detailed conservation practice at farm level. The Mediterranean region is particularly prone to erosion because it is subject to long dry periods followed by heavy bursts of erosive rain, falling on steep slopes with fragile soils. This contrasts with NW Europe where soil erosion is less because rain falling on mainly gentle slopes is evenly distributed throughout the year and consequently, the area affected by erosion is less extensive than in southern Europe. However, erosion is still a serious problem in NW and central Europe, and is on the increase. In parts of the Mediterranean region, erosion has reached a stage of irreversibility and in some places erosion has practically ceased because there is no more soil left.
With a very slow rate of soil formation, any soil loss of more than 1 t ha-1yr-1 can be considered as irreversible within a time span of 50-100 years. Losses of 20 to 40 t ha-1 in individual storms, that may happen once every two or three years, are measured regularly in Europe with losses of more than 100 t ha-1in extreme events. The main causes of soil erosion are still inappropriate agricultural practices, deforestation, overgrazing, forest fires and construction activities.
In a period of rapid changes in both climate and land use, due to global change, revised agricultural policies and changing international market forces, it is vitally important to be able to assess the state of soil erosion at a European level, using an objective methodology. This methodology must also allow the assessment of erosion to be repeated as conditions change, or to explore the broad scale implications of prospective global or European-wide changes in land utilisation. The results of applying such a methodology can provide estimates of the overall costs attributable to erosion under present and changed conditions, and objectively identify areas where more detailed study is needed and possible remedial action.
4 Different Modelling approaches (PESERA, MESALES, G2, USLE) are presented in this section. Moreover, data for the K-Factor (Soil Erodibility) in European level are available. At the end, the assessment of soil erosion in the Alps is presented as well:
PESERA Model (Pan-European Soil Erosion Risk Assessment)
- CD-ROM: "Nature and extent of soil erosion in Europe" (copy of CD-ROM including description of the PESERA project)
- Data: Pan European Soil Erosion estimates (t/ha/yr) (from PESERA project): Data from this project are available on request
MESALES Model (Regional Modelling of Soil Erosion Risk)
- Project Description: Prior to the PESERA project, Soil Erosion Risk Assessment data have been calculated by INRA (France) under contract to the JRC based on the Soil Geographical Data Base of Europe at scale 1:1 Million.
- Data: Soil Erosion Risk Assessment in Europe. Data from this project are available on request.
- G2 Model: G2 model is a new generic model for erosion, resulted from the cooperation of JRC and the Lab of Forest Management and Remote Sensing of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in the framework of geoland2 project. Data from this project are available on request.
- K-Factor: The soil erodibility high resolution dataset (500m) overcomes the problems of limited data availability for K-factor assessment and presents a high quality resource for modellers who aim at soil erosion estimation on local/regional, national or European scale. Data from this project are available on request.
- R-Factor: Assessment of the temporal- and spatial distribution of rainfall erosivity in form of the (Revised) Universal Soil Loss Equation R-factor for Switzerland. Users can download/use an application (algorithm was implemented in C programming language) which calculates the R-Factor based on rainfall (10 min resolution) and temperature (1 h resolution) data.
Erosion in ITALY (USLE)
- Erosion in ITALY (USLE): aims to assess erosion risk at national level. The approach is based on the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE). In detail, there are presented the Methods and the Final Results of the Project.
- Assessment in Forest lands: The change in forests of Italy during the Period 2002-2011
Soil Erosion in European Regions
- Erosion in Alps (ClimChAlp): aims to develop a comprehensive assessment of soil erosion in the Alps
Panos Panagos, E-Mail: Panos.Panagos@jrc.ec.europa.eu
References - Citations
- Panagos, P., Meusburger, K., Ballabio, C., Borrelli, P., Alewell, C. (2014) Soil erodibility in Europe: A high-resolution dataset based on LUCAS. Science of Total Environment, 479480 (2014) pp. 189200
- Panagos, P., Meusburger, K., Van Liedekerke, M., Alewell, C., Hiederer, R., Montanarella, L. 2014. Assessing soil erosion in Europe based on data collected through a European Network. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition (in Press). DOI: 10.1080/00380768.2013.835701
- Panagos, P., Karydas C.G., Ballabio, C., Gitas, I.Z. 2014. Seasonal monitoring of soil erosion at regional scale: An application of the G2 model in Crete focusing on agricultural land uses. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, Volume 27, Part B, April 2014, pp. 147155
- Karydas, C.G., Panagos, P., & Gitas, I.Z. (2014): A classification of water erosion models according to their geospatial characteristics, International Journal of Digital Earth, Vol. 7, Iss. 3, 2014, pp. 229-250, DOI:10.1080/17538947.2012.671380
- Panagos, P., Meusburger, K., Alewell, C., Montanarella, L. Soil erodibility estimation using LUCAS point survey data of Europe, Environmental Modelling & Software, Volume 30, April 2012, Pages 143-145 doi:10.1016/j.envsoft.2011.11.002
- Meusburger, K., Steel, A., Panagos, P., Montanarella, L., Alewell, C. Spatial and temporal variability of rainfall erosivity factor for Switzerland. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 16, 167177, 2012. doi:10.5194/hess-16-167-2012
- Panagos, P., Karydas, C.G., Gitas, I.Z., Montanarella, L. Monthly soil erosion monitoring based on remotely sensed biophysical parameters: a case study in Strymonas river basin towards a functional pan-European service. International Journal of Digital Earth (2012), Vol. 5, Iss. 6, 2012, pp. 461-487., DOI: 10.1080/17538947.2011.587897
- M. J. Kirkby, B. J. Irvine, R. J. A. Jones, G. Govers. The PESERA coarse scale erosion model for Europe. I. Model rationale and implementation European Journal of Soil Science 59 (6) , pp. 1293-1306 . doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2389.2008.01072.x
- Le Bissonnais Y., C. Montier, M. Jamagne, J. Daroussin, D. King (2002). Mapping erosion risk for cultivated soil in France. Catena, 46, 207-220. doi: 10.1016/S0341-8162(01)00167-9
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| European Commission - Joint
Institute for Environment and Sustainability
Marc Van Liedekerke(tel. +39-0332-785179)
Panos Panagos (tel. +39-0332-785574)