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Developing a high resolution harmonised soil database for the Danube Basin

Developing a high resolution harmonised soil database for the Danube Basin


Soil performs a number of key environmental, economic and social functions that are vital for life. The importance of then need for the sustainable use of soil and its protection from degradation processes is now recognised within the European Union across many policy areas, such as those relating to environment, agriculture, regional development and climate change. The Danube Strategy specifically recognises the importance of soil and land within the pillars on environmental protection, irrigation and agricultural development, and navigability. In order to perform its many functions, it is necessary to maintain soil conditions: however, there is evidence that the soil may be increasingly threatened by a range of human activities, which may degrade it.

Soil degradation affects the environment by modifying ecosystems and thereby reducing productivity and biodiversity. Loss of natural habitats puts pressure on fauna and flora, and affects the overall quality of environmental health. Erosion from arable lands causes a loss of nutrients, a decline in productivity (and associated economic costs) and water pollution and navigability. The Danube Region is also facing growing pressures on land-related risks related to the increased frequency of extreme weather phenomena and global climate change. The frequency and severity of floods, erosion, droughts, greenhouse gas fluxes and soil quality are likely to present major challenges in the coming years. The impact of soil sealing on water quantity is also a significant issue. The removal of the buffering capacity of soils leads to faster delivery of run-off to water bodies and channels leading to higher and more rapid flood event. The build-up of salts in the soil, especially in areas under irrigation is another area of concern.

Soil is a critical resource for agriculture. Tackling pressures on soil functions caused by agriculture represents one of the main challenges to prosperity, food security and health in the Danube Region. The reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) increased the opportunities for assisting in the implementation of land protection policies through an efficient use of Cross Compliance and of Agri-Environmental measures. The Rural Development Plans for the Danube identifies the reduction of soil erosion and the preservation of soil organic matter as critical agriculture conditions. Addressing these pressures requires a basin-wide perspective and cooperation among countries in the Danube Region by taking account of the needs of key stakeholders (e.g., the public, farmers, land managers, policy makers).

In addition, a number of global initiatives have good soil management at their core. These include the commitment of the Rio+20 summit towards a zero net land degradation world by 2050 and the joint launching by the JRC and FAO of the European node of the Global Soil Partnership in 2013. It should be noted that several Danube states have declared themselves as suffering from desertification under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).Given the heightened awareness of problems associated with soils, there are increasing demands on Member States and EU services to deliver harmonized and accurate assessments of the state of soil conditions and the trends and impacts of key pressures. It is imperative that adequate knowledge-based systems are in place to deliver and support the necessary soil protection measures and instruments.

Therefore, the Danube Land and Soil Nexus is coordinating the development of novel harmonised high-resolution soil database for Region at a scale of 1:250,000 based on the E-SOTER methodology (EU funded FP7 research project) to support land evaluation and production of functional maps.

The proposal of the JRC is to evolve the model of the existing 1:1 million product to a scale of 1;250,000 by the fusion of the European Manual of Procedures (version 1.0, 1998) and the methodology developed under the FP7 project E-SOTER, which also supports the soil association concept used in the SGDBE.

In addition to the development of a fully harmonized dataset for the Danube, one of the major considerations of the JRC's approach is that Member States (MS) generate a new and novel product to support national scale assessments by adopting the methodology outlined in this document. The SOTER (SOil and TERrain) approach was initiated in 1984 by International Union of Soil Science to create up-to-date 1:1 million scale digital soil map and database that would replace the 1;5 million FAO-Unesco Soil Map of the World. Subsequently, the SOTER methodology has been used to develop small-scale soil mapping for large parts of the world. Underpinning the SOTER methodology is the identification of areas of land with a distinctive, often repetitive, pattern of landform, lithology, surface form, slope, parent material and soil. Tracts of land distinguished in this manner are named SOTER units. Each SOTER unit thus represents one unique combination of terrain and soil characteristics (i.e. a SMU and STU).

The e-SOTER project showed that landform units could be successfully derived from DEM, that soil patterns could (in some conditions) be mapped by remote sensing and that legacy data already held in the European Geographical Soil Database and various national databases could be used to describe SOTER soil units. A further conclusions of the project was that the SOTER methodology could be adapted to develop a 1:250,000 product for Europe.

The JRC proposes to supply countries with a coherent topographic polygon base of the Danube Basin derived from SOTER principles based on high resolution DEM coverage. This polygon dataset would probably be derived by a third party and require some financial support. Soil information can then be extracted from a variety of relevant national sources (e.g. legacy data, profile archives, remote sensing, etc.) to populate the physiographic polygons. This approach proposes a strong subsidiarity status as there is no obligation for the transfer of primary datasets from Member States to the JRC as the generation/assignment of soil data are carried out by the relevant national organizations

Eventual data will be INSPIRE compliment.