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Soil quality


Through deposition via rain, air pollutants and their acids accumulate in soils and the transgression of critical loads leads to an irreversible destruction of ecosystems. Salinity on the other hand can improve soil structure, but becomes a problem when salts accumulate in the root zone and negatively affect plant growth. Saline irrigation water contains dissolved salts. In much of the arid and semi-arid areas most of the salts present in irrigation water are chlorides, sulphates, carbonates, and bicarbonates of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.
Besides soil contamination, soil may be detached and moved by water, wind or tillage. This so called soil erosion has been occurring for some 450 million years. This 'natural' soil erosion by the action of water or wind is called 'background' (or 'geological') soil erosion. In general, background erosion removes soil at roughly the same rate as soil is formed. But 'accelerated' soil erosion - loss of soil at a much faster rate than it is formed - is a far more recent problem, which results of human activities, such as overgrazing or agricultural practices. Accelerated soil erosion by water or wind may affect both agricultural areas and the natural environment by leading to rainfalls or windstorms depositing soils a long distance away. This has impacts both on-site (at the place where the soil is detached) and off-site (wherever the eroded soil is deposited).
In addition, the use of agricultural machinery has, in some parts of the world, led to damaging amounts of soil moving downslope merely under the action of gravity, the so-called tillage erosion. Besides agricultural use, another reason for anthropogenic erosion is deforestation.
This text is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace any reference documents.

Guiding Question

Does the option affect the acidification, contamination or salinity of soil, and soil erosion rates?

Relevant policies

Europe 2020
The Sixth Environment Action Programme of the European Community 2002-2012
For detailed information on legislations, please enter

Further sources of data

EEA Fast Track Service Precursor on Land Monitoring – Degree of Soil Sealing
JRC Inspire Directive for spatial information regarding environmental impacts
Land monitoring through earth observation data by GMES
European Forum for Geostatistics
Geographic information system of the European Commission (GISCO)
Land Use and Land Cover Area frame Survey LUCAS (Metadata)
Corine land cover data
Monitoring Agricultural Resources (MARS) Unit Mission by the Joint Research Centre (JRC)
National soil degradation maps
European Commission JRC

Further sources of information

European Environment Agency on soil
EEA Report: Soil – SOER 2010 thematic assessment
EEA: Soil - The forgotten resource
EEA: Urban soil sealing in Europe
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Critical loads and dynamic modelling (CLDM)
DG Environment
European Commission JRC Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation Project

Eurostat Indicators

There are no Eurostat Structural Indicators related to this key question.

Other Official Indicators

Eurostat Agri-environmental indicators (AEIs) track the integration of environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy 8CAP) at EU, national and regional levels
The European Environment Agency provides some indicators which can be used to assess the impact on soils:

  • Progress in management of contaminated sites
  • Emissions of organic matter

Publications and applications

Content for this term

Title Type Updated date
Glaesner, Nadia Expert 2014-03-26 13:33
Reidsma, Pytrik Expert 2014-04-08 17:04
Soil Quality Impact Area 2013-05-03 13:30