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Soil is a vital component of natural capital, hosting rich biodiversity and providing critical ecosystem services, such as food production, water purification and carbon storage. However, the majority of EU soils are considered unhealthy, with potentially 2.8 million sites being contaminated.
How can Copernicus help?
The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service offers several free-to-use data products related to soil monitoring. Soil moisture data layers—including Surface Soil Moisture, which provides information on the relative water content of the top few centimeters soil, and the Soil Water Index, which quantifies the moisture condition at various depths in the soil—can be used for applications in agriculture, water management, weather forecasting, ecological modeling, and conservation efforts.
Soil moisture deficit: nature’s warning system
Soil moisture is essential for plant development. It regulates soil temperature, salinity, nutrient availability, and the presence of toxic substances. Soil moisture also gives soil structure, prevents soil erosion, and helps determine land use suitability.
From 2000-2019, soil moisture in the growing season was several times below the long-term average in EEA member countries plus the United Kingdom.
2019 was a particularly difficult year, with over 1.45 million km2 affected by soil moisture deficit. Moisture content was also low in 2012, 2015 and 2018, contributing to increasingly frequent and intense drought pressure.
The soil sealed under roads and pavements
Europe’s urban areas are growing, often at the expense of fertile agricultural land. As a result, concrete and asphalt surfaces can seal soil, preventing it from performing its functions such as storing water, producing food and biomass, regulating climate, buffering harmful chemicals, and providing habitats.
Rain on sealed surfaces also runs off rather than seeping into the soil, where it can be filtered by and can replenish the groundwater.