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Water retention

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 08 Sep 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 11 Sep 2015, 12:21 PM
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This content has been archived on 13 May 2015, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/water-retention-3 was published)
Indicator codes: CLIM 029

Update planned for November 2012

Key messages

  • Water retention capacity and soil moisture content will be affected by rising temperatures and by a decline in soil organic matter due to both climate change and land-management changes.
  • Projections (for 2071-2100) show a general reduction in summer soil moisture over most of Europe, significant reductions in the Mediterranean region, and increases in the north-eastern part of Europe.
  • Maintaining water retention capacity is important to reducing the impacts of intense rainfall and droughts, which are projected to become more frequent and severe.


Modelled soil moisture in Europe

Note: Left: example of a forecast of topsoil moisture (15 July, 2008), right: subsoil available water capacity derived from modelling data.

Data source:

European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC), (left); and European Flood Alert System (EFAS) (right).

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Modelled summer soil moisture (1961-1990) and projected changes (2071-2100) over Europe

Note: Simulated soil moisture by ECHAM5/T106L31 for the baseline period (1961-1990) (left) and relative changes in % under the IPCC A2 scenario (2071-2100) (right).

Data source:

Simulated by the ECHAM5 global climate model. Calanca et al., 2006.

Calanca, P.; Roesch, A.; Jasper, K.; Wild, M., 2006. Global warming and the summertime evapotranspiration regime of the Alpine region. Climatic Change 79: 6578.

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  • Past trends

There is no clear indication on past trends for water retention across the EU except for local field data. However several models can be used to assess soil moisture, for both subsoil and topsoil. Figure 1, right shows the subsoil available water capacity derived from modelling data. Capacity is high in north-western and central Europe and low in parts of the Mediterranean. Forecasts of soil moisture trends (an example for 15 July 2008 is shown in Figure 1, left) show very wet topsoils in north-western and central Europe and dry topsoils in the Mediterranean.
Long-term past trend analysis of these modeled characteristics is not possible due to lack of information over a sufficient time-period for the main soil properties that are the input parameters for the models used.


Figure 2 presents summer soil moisture over continental Europe for the IPCC A2 scenario (2071-2100), compared with 1961-1990. The projections show a general reduction in summer soil moisture over most of Europe and significant reductions in the Mediterranean region, while the north-eastern part of Europe will experience an increase in summer soil moisture.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Modelled summer soil moisture (1961-1990) and projected changes (2070-2080) over Europe


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

soil moisture | soil | soer2010 | thematic assessments | climate change
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 029
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Management Plan

2008 2.3.1 (note: EEA internal system)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100