You are here: Home / Resources / Data portal / Soil Erosion by Water

Soil Erosion by Water

Soil erosion, water, rainfall erosivity, land degradation, Europe
Year of publication: 2015
Soil Erosion by Water


Panos Panagos, European Commission - Joint Research Centre


Soil erosion by water is one of the major threats to soils in the European Union, with a negative impact on ecosystem services, crop production, drinking water and carbon stocks. The European Commission’s Soil Thematic Strategy has identified soil erosion as a relevant issue for the European Union, and has proposed an approach to monitor soil erosion. A recent published paper presents the application of a modified version of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model (RUSLE2015) to estimate soil loss in Europe for the reference year 2010, within which the input factors (Rainfall erosivity, Soil erodibility, Cover-Management, Topography, Support practices) are modelled with the most recently available pan-European datasets. While RUSLE has been used before in Europe, RUSLE2015 improves the quality of estimation by introducing updated (2010), high-resolution (100 m), peer-reviewed input layers. The mean soil loss rate in the European Union’s erosion-prone lands (agricultural, forests and semi-natural areas) was found to be 2.46 t ha-1 yr-1, resulting in a total soil loss of 970 Mt annually. A major benefit of RUSLE2015 is that it can incorporate the effects of policy scenarios based on land-use changes and support practices. The impact of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the EU’s guidelines for soil protection can be grouped under land management (reduced/no till, plant residues, cover crops) and support practices (contour farming, maintenance of stone walls and grass margins). The policy interventions (GAEC, Soil Thematic Strategy) over the past decade have reduced the soil loss rate by 9.5% on average in Europe, and by 20% for arable lands. Special attention is given to the 4 * 106 ha of croplands which currently have unsustainable soil loss rates of more than 5 t ha-1 yr-1, and to which policy measures should be targeted. A correspondence article "Common Agricultural Policy: Tackling soil loss across Europe" has also been publihed in Nature (October 2015).


At a resolution of 100m, this is the most detailed assessment yet of soil erosion by water for the EU. The study applied a modified version of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model, RUSLE 2015, which delivers improved estimates based on higher resolution (100 m compared to 1 km) peer-reviewed inputs of rainfall, soil, topography, land use and management from the year 2010 (the latest year for which most of the input factors are estimated). The model can be used to predict the effect of a range of policy scenarios. It is also replicable, comparable and can be extended to model other regions. All the input layers (Rainfall erosivity, Soil Erodibility, Cover-Management, Topography and Support Practices) have been peer reviewed and published as well.

DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2015.08.012

Reference: Panagos, P., Borrelli, P., Poesen, J., Ballabio, C., Lugato, E., Meusburger, K., Montanarella, L., Alewell, .C. 2015. The new assessment of soil loss by water erosion in Europe. Environmental Science & Policy. 54: 438-447.



This is Pacific Theme