European map of soil suitability to provide a platform for most human activities (EU28)

This dataset (map)(2016) presents the suitability of soil as a platform for most human activities in the EU. Calculation of suitability was done using vaious properties of the European Soil database (soil type, soil water regime, limitation to agricultural use, depth to rock, land use) and slope of the terrain.
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Author - Contributors: 
Tamas Hermann, Gergely Toth of the European Commission JRC

This dataset (map) presents the suitability of soil as a platform for most human activities

Human activities on the earth’s surface are linked to the various types of land uses. Most of the human activities are performed on artificial surfaces, such as urban and industrial areas or in areas of commercial, transport or sport facilities. Therefore the evaluation of the partial soil quality index for the soil function to provide platform for most human activities  are considered with regards to the suitability for these artificial surfaces. Other main areas of human land use, such as agriculture and forestry are considered in other domains of the evaluation framework. Artificial surfaces means built environment, where the soils function is to support the construction. Although advanced construction technologies make development on all kind of soils possible, the costs may rise dramatically on less suitable lands and it can also cause environmental problems (contamination, flooding etc).

Suitability of a given soil is calculated on the basis of its structural stability. The strength of the soil is considered in terms of resistance against compaction and shearing stress. Our basic standpoint for the evaluation of soil strength is: the more stable the soil structure is, the higher its supporting ability for construction and other human activities. Most guidelines for construction purposes apply a kinematic approach for the suitability evaluation of soils of construction sites (Turner and Schuster 1996). Assessments also take the slope and underlying hydrological parameters into account.

Although soil susceptibility to compaction can be regarded as a good proxy of structural stability, from the viewpoint of construction suitability, mineral soils mostly show little differences.

Formulas for calculating soil strength based on effective stress and failure criterions were also found to be difficult to apply for our continental scale evaluation, mainly for two reasons. First, because of their scale dependency; second because of their heavy data requirements.

Instead, we have developed an expert classification to express the Human Activities Soil Quality Index. The classification includes:

1.     Selection of soils which have no sensitivity to compaction or shearing

2.     Selection of soils which are susceptible to compaction or horizontal shearing

3.     Classification of Histosols, Cryolols and Vertisols to less-suitable for human activitiy

Since further to the vertical stability of soils, the significance of some other ecological properties are considered to be even more important for construction purposes, we have extended the evaluation scheme with some other criteria (pedological, hydrological and topographic).

The evaluation scheme was accomplished also considering the effect of slope. It is worth clarifying that the evaluation of landslide risk was out of the scope of our study, and the assessment of soil suitability for providing a platform for human activities was only considering the easiness of spatial development and not the consequences of any such activity.  

Level to slightly undulating lands (with slope angel 0-8 %) are considered most suitable for most of the human activities and soils on these lands are classified according to their vertical stability. Soils on level or slightly undulating lands with extreme properties were classified less suitable (1 or 2) on the basis of their significant limiting characteristics. Soils on gentle to steep slopes (8-25%) are evaluated by scores 1-3, based on soil characteristics expressed through pedotransfer rules. Soils on steep slopes as well as soils in very high elevation were classified to the least suitable (score= 1) for the purpose of most human activities.

Calculation of the suitability indices is based on a pedotransfer rule considering the

a)     soil type (WRB-LEV1 in the European Soil Data Base (ESDB))

b)    soil water regime (WR in the ESDB)

c)     Code of the most important limitation to agricultural use of the STU (AGLIM1 in the ESB)

d)    depth to rock (DR)

e)     dominant land use (USE-DOM)

f)     slope

Suitability class

Slope 0-8

Slope 8-25

Slope >25










a) I i

b) Histosolsii

c) Vertisols

I iii



a) Iiv

b) Histosols (other than as in 2b)

c) Cryosols

d) All soils above 2000m altitude

All soils above 2000m altitude

All soils

I*= All mineral soils with no limitation (ie. not Histosol, not Cryosol and not i/ii/iii/iv)

(WRB-LEV1 is not CR or VR; WR is not 4; AGLIM1 is not 4/6/11/13/16/17/18; DR is not S; USE-DOM is not 10)


  • i    Wet within 40 cm depth for over 11 months (WR= 4)
  • ii   Histosols on continuous rock or fragmental material
  • iii  Having one or more of the following properties: Lithic, petrocalcic, fragipan, duripan, petroferric, permafrost (AGLIM1= 4       /6/11/16/17/18); shallow depth to rock (DR= S);
  • iv    Part of moorland (USE-DOM= 10) and/or almost always flooded (AGLIM1= 13).


Houskova, B. and Montanarella, L. 2008. The natural susceptibility of European soil to compaction. In: Tóth, G., Montanarella, L. and Rusco, E. (eds.) 2008. Threats to Soil Quality in Europe EUR 23438 EN, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, pp23-35.

Turner, A. K. and Schuster, R. L. 1996. Landslides: Investigation and Mitigation. Special Report 247. Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. p673


The Data

The data have been internally produced by JRC (2015) but have not been submitted yet for peer-review. 

The map is a .tif format; spatial coverage: EU-28; resolution 1000m; coordinate-system ETRS89-LAEA-10-52. Values of the cells: 1, 2, 3 or 4 (see above)

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