EU Science Hub

New European map of topsoil organic carbon

Nov 05 2014

The JRC recently released a map providing the most updated picture of topsoil organic carbon (OC) content at the European Union scale.


This map was built to answer the increasing demand for accurate soil organic carbon data for global environmental and climatic modelling. As the greatest terrestrial carbon pool, soils play a key role in climate change regulation processes. Whilst soil surveys generally collect point data, the establishment of spatially continuous data layers, as maps, is necessary for global modelling.


The map was created by applying digital soil mapping techniques to the first European harmonised geo-referenced topsoil (0–20 cm) database, which arises from the Land use/Cover Area frame statistical Survey (LUCAS). Uncertainties of the organic carbon content predictions were estimated through a model to support careful use of the map. It revealed larger uncertainties in northern latitudes, wetlands, moors and heathlands, whereas small uncertainties were found in croplands.


Soil organic matter, which is usually considered to contain approximately 58% organic carbon, consists of partially decayed plant residues, microorganisms and the by-products of microbial growth and decomposition. It is a key component of soil as it influences its structure, aggregate stability, nutrient availability, water retention and resilience. Through these properties, soils contribute to ecosystem dynamics and provide ecosystem services vital to human activities, such as food production or the prevention of land degradation.


Map of predicted topsoil organic carbon content (gCkg−1).


Map of standard error of the OC model predictions (gCkg1).