EU Science Hub

The erosive force of rainfall is the harshest in southern Europe

Soil erosion in a field
Feb 16 2015

Rainfall is more likely to cause soil erosion in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions than in Northern Europe.  This becomes evident from a new set of data that the JRC has collected on the erosive force of rainfall in different parts of Europe. The new dataset provides key parameters for estimating soil loss and soil erosion risk in Europe, but could in future also be used for assessing and forecasting landslides and floods, and for the management of ecosystems and agriculture.

Rainfall is one the main drivers of soil erosion. It affects the quality of soil by reducing nutrients and organic matter and by making soil layers thinner. The erosive force of rainfall – 'rainfall erosivity' – combines the influence of the duration, magnitude and intensity of precipitation, and is also dependent on the variation of precipitation during the seasons (precipitation seasonality), temperature, elevation and spatial coordinates (latitude, longitude). Rainfall erosivity was the subject of a recent study carried out by a group of researchers from the JRC and other European institutes and universities. The researchers collected data from rainfall monitoring stations in all EU Member States and Switzerland, taking into account the amount and intensity of rainfall in different parts of Europe.

Using a model based on the best available datasets, the research group produced a Rainfall Erosivity Database (REDES) and a rainfall erosivity map, which provide a complete dataset on rainfall erosivity for the 28 European Union Member States and Switzerland. They contain high temporal resolution data which until now was not easily available for modellers and scientists. The datasets can be downloaded free of charge from the website of the European Soil Data Centre.

Rainfall erosivity map of Europe
High resolution map of rainfall erosivity in Europe. The dark blue colour represents the areas with the highest rainfall erosivity.
© EU, 2015

Apart from being valuable for the assessment of soil loss and soil erosion risk, these tools can be used by experts to estimate the susceptibility of specific areas to natural hazards, such as flash floods that are associated with short and heavy rainfall, as well as dry soil. They can also be used for agricultural management in areas that have to cope with short and extreme rainfall events combined with dry soil. In particular, the data can be useful in crop-rotation planning to avoid extreme rain and high erosivity reducing or completely destroying permanent crops such as olives, vineyards and fruit trees that are particularly important in the Mediterranean region. Ultimately, REDES can also be used to identify the trends and threats of climate change.