- 105 million ha., or 16 % of Europe’s total land area (excluding Russia) were estimated to be affected by water erosion in the 1990s.
- Some 42 million ha. of land were estimated to be affected by wind erosion, of which around 1 million ha. were categorised as being severely affected.
- A recent new model of soil erosion by water has estimated the surface area affected in the EU‐27 at 130 million ha. Almost 20 % is subjected to soil loss in excess of 10 tonnes/ha./year.
- Increased variations in rainfall pattern and intensity will make soils more susceptible to water erosion, with off-site effects of soil erosion increasing.
- Increased aridity will make finer-textured soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, especially if accompanied by a decrease in soil organic matter levels.
- Reliable quantitative projections for soil erosion are not available.
How are European soils affected by water and wind erosion?
Estimated soil erosion by water in Europe
Note: Calculated by the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE). While the overall patterns of erosion are generally sound, the validation of erosion data can be challenging. The data presented are currently being validated through comparisons with national datasets and expert judgement. In this sense, zooming in on a specific locality can give the impression of a situation that differs from reality. In addition, the model used in this exercise does not consider localised intense precipitation.
- The State of Soil in Europe provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
- E-OBS provided by ENSEMBLE FP6 project
- Corine Land Cover 2006 seamless vector data provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
- Modelling soil erosion at European scale: towards harmonization and reproducibility. provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Estimated number of days for wind erosion
Note: Calculations are based on wind velocity and soil texture. While the overall patterns of erosion are generally sound, the validation of erosion data can be challenging. The data presented are currently being validated through comparisons with national datasets and expert judgement. In this sense, zooming in on a specific locality can give the impression of a situation that differs from reality.
- Corine Land Cover 2000 seamless vector data provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
- PRUDENCE provided by Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI)
Systematic and harmonised data on trends in soil erosion across Europe are lacking. EU-wide estimates of erosion are based on modelling studies, most of which have not yet been validated. A recent exercise has estimated that the surface area in the EU‐27 (excluding Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which lack CORINE land cover data for 2006) affected by water erosion is 130 million ha. Almost 20 % is subjected to soil loss in excess of 10 tonnes/ha/year [i] (Figure 1). Most models contain a rainfall erosivity factor and a soil erodibility factor that reflect average precipitation conditions. Typical values for these factors may inadequately represent the impact of extreme rainfall. Therefore, the uncertainty of modelled erosion risk is high, especially at local level.
The situation for wind erosion is similar to erosion by water in that systematic data collections are limited. Wind erosion is estimated to be a serious problem in many parts of eastern England, north-west France, northern Germany, parts of the Iberian Peninsula and eastern Netherlands (Figure 2).
[i] C. Bosco et al., “Modelling Soil Erosion at European Scale: Towards Harmonization and Reproducibility,” Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. 2, no. 4 (2014): 2639–80, doi:10.5194/nhessd-2-2639-2014; A. Jones et al., The State of Soil in Europe., Joint Research Centre Reference Report (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012).
Soil erosion rates and extent are expected to reflect changing patterns of land-use and climate change. Variations in rainfall patterns and intensity, and in storm frequency and intensity may affect erosion risk either directly, through the physical displacement of soil particles, or indirectly, through removing protective plant cover. Available European case studies suggest that climate change may increase as well as decrease soil erosion, depending on local climatological and environmental conditions [i]. However, reliable quantitative pan-European projections for soil erosion are currently not available.
Drier regions are likely to be more susceptible to wind erosion than wetter regions. The apparent inability of ecosystems to recover from repeated drought may result in increased risk of wind erosion.
[i] Michael Märker et al., “Assessment of Land Degradation Susceptibility by Scenario Analysis: A Case Study in Southern Tuscany, Italy,” Geomorphology 93, no. 1–2, Challenges in Geomorphological Methods and Techniques (January 1, 2008): 120–29, doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2006.12.020; H. Thodsen, B. Hasholt, and J. H. Kjærsgaard, “The Influence of Climate Change on Suspended Sediment Transport in Danish Rivers,” Hydrological Processes 22, no. 6 (March 15, 2008): 764–74, doi:10.1002/hyp.6652; Gerald Scholz, John N. Quinton, and Peter Strauss, “Soil Erosion from Sugar Beet in Central Europe in Response to Climate Change Induced Seasonal Precipitation Variations,” CATENA 72, no. 1 (January 1, 2008): 91–105, doi:10.1016/j.catena.2007.04.005.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Estimated soil erosion by water in Europe
- Estimated number of days for wind erosion
- days per year
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
EU-wide estimates of erosion are based on modelling studies. Most models contain a rainfall erosivity factor and a soil erodibility factor that reflect average precipitation conditions. Typical values for these factors may inadequately represent the impact of extreme rainfall. Therefore, the uncertainty of modelled erosion risk is high, especially at local level.
Methodology for gap filling
- Bosco et al. (2014): Modelling soil erosion at European scale: towards harmonization and reproducibility. Bosco, C., de Rigo, D., Dewitte, O., Poesen, J., Panagos, P., 2014. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences Discussions 2 (4), 2639-2680. DOI: 10.5194/nhessd-2-2639-2014.
Data sets uncertainty
Quantitative information, from both observations and modelling, on the past trends and impacts of climate change on soil and the various related feedbacks, is very limited. For example, data have been collected in forest soil surveys (e.g. ICP Forests, BioSoil and FutMon projects), but issues with survey quality in different countries makes comparison between countries (and between surveys) difficult . To date, assessments have relied mainly on local case studies that have analysed how soil reacts under changing climate in combination with evolving agricultural and forest practices. Thus, European-wide soil information to help policymakers identify appropriate adaptation measures is absent. There is an urgent need to establish harmonised monitoring networks to provide a better and more quantitative understanding of this system. Currently, EU-wide soil indicators are (partly) based on estimates and modelling studies, most of which have not yet been validated. Nevertheless, in absence of quantification, other evidences can indicate emerging risks. For example, shifting tree lines in mountainous regions as a consequence of climate change may indicate an extinction risk of local soil biota.
Finally, when documenting and modelling changes in soil indicators, it is not always feasible to track long-term changes (signal) given the significant short-term variations (noise) that may occur (e.g. seasonal variations of soil organic carbon due to land management). Therefore, detected changes cannot always be attributed to climate change effects, as climate is only one of the soil-forming factors. Human activity can be more determining, both in measured/modelled past trends (baseline), and if projections including all possible factors were to be made. The latter points towards the critical role of effective land use and management in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
provided by Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI)
Image 2000 & Corine Land Cover 2000
provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Modelling soil erosion at European scale: towards harmonization and reproducibility.
provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
The State of Soil in Europe
provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
provided by ENSEMBLE FP6 project
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 028
- LSI 006
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoGeertrui Veerle Erika Louwagie
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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