Soil Atlas of Europe

The atlas is the result of a collective effort by more the 40 National soil surveys and soil science institutions cooperating across Europe within the European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN). This network, established by the JRC in 1989, has formalised already existing collaborations among soil surveys already initiated in 1959 by the UN FAO as the first steps towards a common soil map for the European Union.

The main European added value of the ESBN has been the joint effort towards bringing together soil information collected in separate European countries, using very different methodologies, standards and scientific backgrounds, into one single geographic information system (GIS) while demonstrating that, at least for soil science, a “Europe without borders” is possible. Lengthy cross-border harmonisation sessions between bordering countries have resulted in a common fully harmonised soil geographical database of Europe at a nominal scale of 1:1,000,000. This database has allowed the production of the maps that are at the heart of the new “Soil Atlas of Europe”.

Soil resources of Europe are limited and need to be protected for future generations. A number of threats are affecting the functioning of European soils, not only for the purpose of agricultural production, but also for other important environmental services that soil delivers to all of us:

  • storage, filtering and buffering of contaminants, allowing us to enjoy clean ground- and surface waters,
  • limiting dramatic flood events;
  • enhancing the storage of greenhouse gases that otherwise would be released to the atmosphere;
  • preserving a large pool of biodiversity by hosting a large number of microbial species in the soil top layers; ,
  • archiving human artefacts that document our common European cultural heritage;
  • providing stable surfaces for our housing and infrastructure and source of raw materials; etc…

The “Soil Atlas of Europe” uses specific maps to illustrate threats such as soil erosion, the decline of organic matter, soil sealing by housing and infrastructure, etc…

Soil protection has a strong trans-boundary character. The Atlas dedicates a large section to the global dimension of soil protection, including a number of plates covering the Mediterranean countries, the Northern Circumpolar Countries (Eurasia, Greenland, North-America) and the globe, based on the joint efforts of the European Commission with the partner organisations in other areas of the world and FAO.

Global climate change will affect soil substantially in the future, posing a serious threat to large areas of permafrost. The Northern Circumpolar Soil Database, a joint international effort, will allow more accurate assessment of this potential threat.


Not only climate change, but also desertification and loss of biodiversity are strongly affecting soils globally, making the new “Soil Atlas of Europe” relevant to a much larger community of stakeholders involved in the implementation of the three “Rio-Conventions” and allowing to explore possible synergies among international multilateral agreements towards global soil protection.   


The Soil Atlas of Europe contains:

  • Maps, Tables, Figures and graphs
  • Introduction to Soils
  • Regional map sheets


Who will read the Soil Atlas:

  • Reference work for EU citizens & Policy makers
  • Not aimed specifically at Soil Scientists
  • Raise profile of soil and related issues
  • Publicise the work of the ESB Network

More then 20 years of collaboration between European soil scientists has resulted in the publication by the European Commission of the first ever "Soil Atlas of Europe". Based on soil data and information collected within the European Soil Information System (EUSIS) developed by the Joint Research Centre, the atlas illustrates in 128 pages of maps, tables, figures and graphs, the richness of European soil resources and the need for their sustainable management. The Atlas compiles existing information on different soil types in easily understandable maps covering the entire European Union and bordering countries.

The publication is intended for the general public, aiming to 'bridge the gap' between soil science and public knowledge. By addressing the non-specialized audience, the Atlas will increase public awareness and understanding of the diversity of soils and of the need to protect this precious resource.

Figure 1: Soil Map of the European Union and bordering countries (source: Soil Atlas of Europe).

In addition to the maps, the “Soil Atlas of Europe” contains an introduction to soil that explains the role and importance of soil, how soil is created, how to identify the soil in your garden, the relationship between soil, agriculture, our cultural heritage, forests and as a source of raw materials. Soil mapping and classification are also explained together with an illustrative and informative guide to the major soil types of Europe.


20 Regional Map sheets




  •     Authors, Contributors and Acknowledgements, 3
  •     Contents , 4
  •     Preface and Foreward, 7
  •     Introduction, 8
  •     Scope of the Atlas, 9
  •     What is soil?, 10
  •     The role and importance of soil, 12
  •     Soil forming processes , 14
  •     The soil in your garden, 18
  •     Soil and agriculture, 20
  •     Forest soil, 22
  •     Soil as a source of raw material, 23
  •     The soil of Europe, 24
  •     Soil classification, 25
  •     The major soil types of Europe , 28
  •     Mapping soil, 34
  •     Soil maps, 36
  •     Soil maps of Europe , 38
  •     Legend , 40
  •     The soil of Europe , 42
  •     Index of Regional Maps , 44
  •     Regional Maps , 46
  •     European soil: a global perspective , 80
  •     The World , 81
  •     Eurasia, 84
  •     Soil of the Mediterranean Region, 86
  •     Northern latitudes, 92
  •     A Soil Database of Europe, 96
  •     Geographical Information Systems, 97
  •     Soil Geographical Databases of Europe , 98
  •     Soil properties maps, 100
  •     Using the soil database, 102
  •     European Soil Bureau Network , 104
  •     European Soil Information System , 105
  •     Nested soil data , 106
  •     Key threats to soil in Europe , 108
  •     Introduction, 109
  •     Soil sealing, 110
  •     Erosion, 111
  •     Loss of organic matter, 112
  •     Decline in biodiversity , 113
  •     Contamination , 114
  •     Compaction , 115
  •     Hydro-geological risks, 116
  •     Salinisation , 117
  •     Protecting soil in the European Union, 118
  •     The way forward , 119
  •     Additional Information, 120
  •     Supporting maps, 121
  •     Further reading, 125
  •     Glossary of soil terms, 126
  •     The Joint Research Centre, 127
  •     ESB Network, 128


A physical copy of the Atlas can be obtained from the EU Bookshop. The Atlas costs 25 Euro.