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Study   Water erodes 970 million tons of soil

EU loses soil area size of Berlin each year due to water erosion

Coastal erosionWater erodes 970 million tons of soil every year in the European Union (EU), said a recent assessment of the European Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC).

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The figure is the equivalent of a one-meter depth of soil loss in an area the size of Berlin, or a one centimeter loss from an area twice the size of Belgium.

The fact that it takes 100 years to form one cm of new soil under natural temperate grasslands gives insight into the magnitude of the problem of soil loss in the EU, said the JRC.

The JRC estimated that an average of 2.46 tons per hectare of soil are lost every year across the EU from land that is prone to erosion (agricultural, forests and semi-natural areas).

Soil erosion by water accounts for the greatest loss of soil in Europe compared to other erosion processes, such as wind. In particular, the highest average annual rates of soil erosion by water were in Italy, Slovenia and Austria, and the lowest were in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands.

Moreover, agricultural lands account for 68.3 percent of total soil losses, while forests account for less than one percent.

While recent policy interventions have reduced the rate of soil loss in the EU by an average of 9.5 percent overall, and by 20 percent for arable lands, the study found that four million hectares of EU croplands have unsustainable rates of soil loss (more than five tons per hectare per year).

According to future land use scenarios, estimations are that rates of soil loss by water would fall slightly by 2050, mainly due to an increase in forest areas.

However, pressures to increase the amount of arable land for food and fuel could offset the reduction, unless more sustainable land management practices are applied.

On the other hand, climate change scenarios estimate that the soil loss rates may increase by 10 to 15 percent by 2050 due to an analogous increase of rainfall-induced erosion in Europe, said the study.

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