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Environmental Assessment of Soil for Monitoring

Final Report Summary - ENVASSO (Environmental Assessment of Soil for Monitoring)

Serious threats to soil throughout Europe were identified during the past years; however, more evidence was needed to support a stronger soil protection policy and to target and monitor its implementation. An international soil monitoring network was of major importance for the realisation of the above tasks. The ENVASSO project objective was to define a monitoring system, describe its potential implementation and, thus, develop a framework for European soils monitoring.

Indicators were selected to record threatening phenomena evolution, including erosion, organic matter decline, contamination, compaction, salinisation, decline in biodiversity, soil sealing, landslides and desertification. For the indicators' selection numerous alternatives were evaluated based on international recommendations. Performance criteria were also defined in some cases, while methods for within-plot sampling and for parameters' measurement were documented.

A monitoring network covering different soil types and land uses was subsequently established. Existing networks were incorporated in the developed system, which was enriched with additional sites. Data management requirements were defined and a prototype database was developed. The alternative procedures for estimating indicators were tested in pilot studies, which covered representative regions and land uses.

The existing methods for monitoring seven of the priority indicators proved to be inadequate or were not available. New approaches needed to be developed for a continental scale estimation of wind and tillage erosion. In addition, the reliable estimation of peat stocks required novel methods to verify the distribution of peat depths and to account for variability in peat composition.

It was generally noticed that two types of indicators were relatively easily implemented, those for which networks existed and those that relied on existing remote-sensed data and spatial information. On the other hand, some indicators required inventories that did not exist in all regions or lacked harmonisation, while others were compromised by uncertainties in relating site measurements to estimates over space and time.

As a result a two-tiered approach was recommended. The first tier established a network for estimation of the easily identifiable indicators. The second tier consisted of a sub-set of the first tier sites with more extended and intensive monitoring, for cases when measuring procedures were too demanding for general implementation, when intensive sampling was needed to describe soil processes or when proficiency exercises to assess variability associated to different field teams were performed. Moreover, the second tier network provided reference sites for soil typological units.

The ENVASSO project had the following conclusions:
1. The existing sites density was sufficient for continental soil monitoring over much of the European Union soil and the number of required new sites was relatively limited.
2. The majority of threats to soil resources were successfully monitored using the existing methodologies; however, current approaches proved inadequate for the assessment of carbon stocks in peat soils, wind erosion and tillage erosion.
3. The manual developed as part of ENVASSO was evaluated as being a valuable reference for future soil monitoring practices.