News Alert

News Alert

Global Soils threatened:
EU, USA and China join forces in research

Brussels, 15 February 2010

Scientists from Europe, USA and China have established a network of field research stations to study the valuable services that soils provide to humanity. The Soiltrec project will find out how to protect soil against the threats posed by climate change, and increasing food and energy demand from a growing human population. The project is coordinated by the University of Sheffield and brings together 15 partners including universities, research organisations and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

The European Commission will invest €7 million over the next 5 years to support scientific research in the EU and China with additional support provided by existing research projects. The new funds also include support for EU and Chinese teams to link with researchers who are funded from the USA National Science Foundation’s Critical Zone Observatory Program. The European research consortium is led by the University of Sheffield. Soil threats include erosion that washes soil from the land surface into rivers, loss of organic matter as a store of nutrients and as essential glue to keep soil in place, and loss of biodiversity and key soil organisms. Loss of soil fertility is also a major threat due to pollution, compaction during intense farming, sealing over by expanding cities and deposition of salt from evaporating irrigation water in dry regions.

The network creates 4 major field research stations in the EU and 6 in the USA, with additional field research projects in EU member states, the USA and China. The aim is to understand and predict how soil provides ecosystem services such as filtering contamination from water, storing carbon, providing food and fibre, providing habitat for a myriad of microbes and larger organisms, and helping maintain the biodiversity and gene pool of our planet.

This research takes a major new approach which designatess field sites as Critical Zone Observatories. These act as international focal points to concentrate scientific effort. The aim is to gain scientific evidence on land use practice that will protect the central role of soil in the Earth’s Critical Zone. This is the thin layer of land at the Earth’s surface that extends from the top of the tree canopy to the lower reaches of drinking water aquifers. This zone is often only tens of metres deep, but within it, bedrock is slowly converted by the action of water and organisms into soil. This valuable resource nourishes land plants and humanity, and supports a major part of our economy.

The international teams harness top soil and water specialists, geologists and ecologists, engineers, management scientists and computer teams. These scientists will work with land management experts to improve land use policy and practice.

The four European fields cited for Critical Zone Observatories are at

  • Damma Glacier Forefield, Switzerland
  • Lysina Catchment, Czech Republic
  • Fuchsenbigl Agricultural Station, Austria
  • Koiliaris Watershed, Crete


Soiltrec fact sheet:  PDF icon 348 KB

Soiltrec web page:


EC press officer: Florian Frank,, Tel.: +32 2 29 97934

EC Scientific Officer: Catherine Eccles, Tel. +32 2 29 94695