Soil Atlas of Europe
SUMMARY: This is an abridged and altered version of a review that appeared in the Journal of Environmental Quality 35: 952-955. “Soil Atlas of Europe”, by European Soil Bureau Network of the European Commission, 2005. Principal editors: A. Jones, L. Montanarella, and R. Jones. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg. Hardbound, 128 pp. ISBN 92 894 8120. €25. The atlas has 7 sections. In the introduction, some of the main soil properties, processes and land uses are described. Sections are devoted to the soil profile, horizon classification, soil variation, and soil forming processes. Two pages deal with “The soil in your garden” attempting to explain soils to non-soil specialists. There are also paragraphs on soils and agriculture, forestry, soils as a source of raw material, and soils and cultural heritage.
1. History of soil mapping in Europe
The first soil maps in Europe started to appear in the 1800s, and such maps were mostly produced for agricultural purposes or the taxation of rural lands and emphasized surface geology, the degree of weathering of the regolith (Stremme, 1997). The first generation maps produced by Stremme have a strong agrogeological base and were based on limited soil survey work (Table 1). The first soil maps stimulated soil survey and research in most European countries of which the fruits were harvested for the second generation of European soil maps (1965-1985). These developed in the heydays of soil survey and were based on hundreds of detailed national and regional maps. The second generation is now being replaced by a third generation of maps in which full use is made of existing soil information with advancements in GIS, remote sensing and quick and accurate soil observations using a range of sensors. This first Soil Atlas of Europe has interesting sections on those third generation types of soil maps but is largely based on the second generation of maps. The primary aim is to provide comprehensive information about the soils of Europe and raising awareness of issues affecting soils; it is part of the European Soil Thematic Strategy that was adopted by the European Union in 2002. Another goal of this atlas is to educate people about the important role of soils in a non-technical manner.
2. Overview of the book
The atlas has 7 sections. In the introduction, some of the main soil properties, processes and land uses are described. Sections are devoted to the soil profile, horizon classification, soil variation, and soil forming processes. Two pages deal with “The soil in your garden” attempting to explain soils to non-soil specialists. There are also paragraphs on soils and agriculture, forestry, soils as a source of raw material, and soils and cultural heritage. In the second section, the soil types of Europe are described following the World Reference Base (WRB) for soil resources. A brief introduction is given on soil classification and the WRB, followed by descriptions of the major soil types and their distribution across Europe. Seven of the 30 WRB soil types (reference groups) do not occur in Europe, like Ferralsols, Alisols and Lixisols. The soils with the largest extent are Albeluvisols that cover 15% of the European land mass; Podzols cover 14%, and Cambisols cover 12%. There are two pages on soil mapping and there is a paragraph on digital soil mapping. Two overview maps show the availability of soil maps at scales of 1:50,000 or 1:250,000 in Europe. It seems that large countries with large economies and populations (France, Germany, UK) not necessarily have good coverage of detailed soil.
In the second section, the soil types of Europe are described following the World Reference Base (WRB) for soil resources. A brief introduction is given on soil classification and the WRB, followed by descriptions of the major soil types and their distribution across Europe. Seven of the 30 WRB soil types (reference groups) do not occur in Europe, like Ferralsols, Alisols and Lixisols. The soils with the largest extent are Albeluvisols that cover 15% of the European land mass; Podzols cover 14%, and Cambisols cover 12%. There are two pages on soil mapping and there is a paragraph on digital soil mapping. Two overview maps show the availability of soil maps at scales of 1:50,000 or 1:250,000 in Europe. It seems that large countries with large economies and populations (France, Germany, UK) not necessarily have good coverage of detailed soil maps. In fact, smaller and more densely populated countries have more detailed soil maps, or in other words: the smaller the country, the better the availability of detailed soil maps (with the exception of Denmark and Switzerland). There is an array of reasons, but in densely populated places there may have been a historical need to know the land as population pressure was higher. In bigger countries, the need for detailed spatial information about soil resources might have been less pressing as land was amply available.
The third section provides 17 regional maps for the whole of Europe. It starts with an overview map at 1:11.25 million showing the soils in Europe including Turkey and Russia up to the Ural Mountains. The 17 regional maps (Lambert Azimuthal projection) are at scales ranging from 1.175 to 1:6.5 million; most maps are at a scale of 1:2 million. There is a nice text introduction to each regional map but the legend (suborder level) is given only once on pages 40 and 41. Major cities and highways are included which makes orientation easy. The soils and their distribution are based on early work; little new boundaries are present as compared to the 1985 map. Classification has been adjusted from the FAO-Unesco system to WRB.
In the next chapter, the soil types and distribution in Europe are compared to soils in other part of the world. According to this atlas, Europe covers about 5% of the global soils and an overview is given how soil distribution differs between different parts of the world. For example, Leptosols are the most dominant soils in the world, whereas they cover 9% of the European land mass. Ferralsols are dominant in South America whereas Arenosols are the most widespread in Africa. The 1:22 million soil map of Europe and Eurasia shows that the Ural Mountains act as a clear divide in soil distribution. Albeluvisols are dominant on the eastern part, and Histosols, Cryosols and Podzols occur at the same latitude east of the Ural. That is nice about maps – if you look longer you see more. There is a separate section on soils of the Mediterranean regions and soils in the Northern latitudes (with a little bit on global warming).
The next chapter deals with the European soil database and explains what GIS is and how the soil geographical database of Europe is constructed. The database consists of a soil geographical database, soil profile database, hydraulic properties database and the pedotransfer rule knowledge base. These are linked and the first step in the development of an integrated European soil information system. Using this integrated database, small maps are presented showing, for example, clay content in the topsoil, base saturation, or depth to bedrock. Soil erosion and potential N2O maps as well as organic matter maps are shown and these are valuable for formulating policy at the EU level.
After that a section is devoted to the seven key threats to soils in Europe: soil sealing, erosion, loss of organic matter, decline in biodiversity, contamination, hydro-geological risks and salinisation. Except for the decline in biodiversity, contamination and salinisation, the other four threats have been fairly well mapped. The last chapter is called Additional Information and contains maps on rainfall, temperature, land cover, population density and a tiny section on soil education.
The atlas has no index; an atlas without an index is like the internet without a search engine. Somehow this atlas could have resembled the beautiful book “Australian Soils and Landscapes – An Illustrated Compendium” (McKenzie et al., 2004), but it doesn’t. It lacks rigor (too many authors perhaps) and image and map quality are not quite comparable. Some subjects in relation to the soils of Europe are lacking or treated very briefly; for example there is nothing on the manure problem which occurs in some regions, on climate change that will affect the Mediterranean countries and that will also influence change land use in other parts of Europe. There is also nothing on soils and health, or soils and socioeconomics. If this atlas were to live up its promises (raise awareness, didactic etc.) the section on soil education should have been larger.
3. Summary points
In the coming decade, there will be considerable changes in the European landscape. Such changes will perhaps directly result from global warming, but more importantly: many farmers will retire or go out of business due to decreasing farm subsidies and increasing farm output in other parts of the world. Future soil maps of Europe will have to focus on changing land use whereby recreation, nature conservation and urbanization may become more extensive than agricultural land use. Despite some points of critique, I enjoyed reading this atlas and learned much about soil distribution in Europe. There is much information that should be read by pedometricians – the price (€25) is also very affordable, that always helps.
4. How to order
Soil atlas can be ordered from the EUSOILS website at an affordable price. Details for the distribution of the atlas are currently being finalised. Copies should be made available to the public during March 2006. If you wish to reserve a hard copy of the atlas (25 euro), please complete the order form. All registered requests will be forwarded to the Publications Office for processing.
Update: The Soil Atlas of Europe now can be downloaded for free. The user has to download each page separately (128 pages in total). The PDF versions provide a better quality version compared with the JPEG files. There are 20 plates of maps which are included as 2-page PDF files, pages 40-79. User may navigate and select the files to download either by browsing the whole Atlas or by selecting one of the sections in the Contents. Each Page has a Title and belongs to one of the 7 sections of the Atlas (Introduction, The Soil of Europe, Soil Maps of Europe, European Soil: A Global perspective, A Soil Database of Europe, Key threats to soil in Europe. More info here
- Commission of the European Communities, 1985. Soil map of the European Communities 1: 1000000. Directorate-General for Agriculture Coordination of Agricultural Research. EEC, Luxembourg.
- FAO-Unesco, 1981. Soil map of the world, volume V Europe, 1:5 000 000, Rome.
- FAO, 1965. Soil map of Europe, Carte des Sols de L’Europe, Mapa de Suelos de Europa. 6 Map sheets, explanatory text by R. Dudal, R. Tavernier and D. Osmond., Rome.
- Jones, A., Montanarella, L. and Jones, R., 2005. Soil atlas of Europe. European Soil Bureau Network. European Commission, Luxembourg, 128 pp.
- McKenzie, N., Jacquier, D., Isbell, R. and Brown, K., 2004. Compendium. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. Stremme, H., 1928. General map of the soils of Europe (Ogolna Mapa Gleb Europy). International Society of Soil Science, Warszawa.
- Stremme, H., 1937. International soil map of Europe, 1:2,500,000. Gea Verlag, Berlin.
- Stremme, H.E., 1997. Preparation of the collaborative soil maps of Europe, 1927 and 1937. In: D.H. Yaalon and S. Berkowicz (Editors), History of Soil Science International Perspectives. Advances in Geoecology. Catena Verlag, Armelgasse 11/35447 Reiskirchen/Germany, pp. 145-158.