SoilTrEC : Soil Transformations in European Catchments

Project acronym: SoilTrEC 
Project full title: Soil Transformations in European Catchments 
Instrument: Collaborative Project FP7 
Grant agreement no.: 244118 
Call: ENV.2009. Soil Processes and Modelling ; Start: 01/12/2009 Duration: 60m; 
Consortium: 15 partners from Europe and the World (China + United States of America). 
Project Coordinator: University of Sheffield (UK) 
Project Web Site
Key words: Soil, critical zone, soil processes, soil function, mathematical modelling, soil life cycle, sustainability, ecosystem services, observatories, policy

Press Release of European Commission DG RTDGlobal Soils threatened: EU, USA and China join forces in research (Brussels, 15/02/2010) 

Soil Trec

The Challenge

Through unsustainable land use practices, mining, deforestation, urbanisation and degradation by industrial pollution, soil losses are now hypothesized to be much faster (100 times or more) than soil formation – with the consequence that soil has become a finite resource. 
The crucial challenge for the SoilTrEC project is to understand the rates of processes that dictate soil mass stocks and their function within Earth’s Critical Zone (CZ). The CZ is the environment where soils are formed, degrade and provide their essential eco-services. Whist our understanding of the CZ has increased over the last 100 years, further advance requires scientists to cross disciplines and scales to integrate understanding of processes in the CZ, ranging from the nano to the global-scale.

Project Objectives

The aims of SoilTrEC are to address the priority research areas identified in the EU Soil Thematic Strategy and to provide leadership for a global network of Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) committed to soils research. The specific objectives are to:

  • Describe from 1st principles how soil structure impacts processes and function in soil profiles,
  • Establish 4 EU Critical Zone Observatories to study soil processes at field scale,
  • Develop a Critical Zone Integrated Model of soil processes and function,
  • Create a GIS-based modelling framework to delineate soil threats and assess mitigation at EU scale,
  • Quantify Impacts of changing land use, climate and biodiversity on soil function and economic value,
  • Form with international partners a global network of CZOs for soils research, and
  • Deliver a programme of public outreach and research transfer on soil sustainability.

The critical scientific aim is to strongly advance the fundamental knowledge of soil processes and functions from lab- to EU-scale and create a step-change in the evidence base to support EU soil policy. A further critical aim is to harness this new fundamental knowledge to new decision support tools that assess soil Impacts. The priority is to develop methods that analyse soil threats quantitatively and assess how Responses such as land management practice can improve and restore soil functions, and ensure that their economic value can be maintained sustainably. A critical aim of the international CZO network activity is to enable the design of CZ experiments across global environmental gradients in order to anticipate the Impact of longer-term temporal changes in factors such as climate. A further priority of this CZO network is to build a vibrant interface between soils researchers and the broader community of stakeholders who are involved in soil policy and management. In order to meet these critical aims, the SoilTrEC consortium proposes a 5-year programme of research. Over this period, project success will be measured by the scheduled delivery of priority data sets, tested modelling codes and the results of new assessments of soil sustainability as milestones within the programme of work.


SoilTrEC has a focus on developing fundamental knowledge through detailed study of relatively well-constrained systems (soil profiles) under controlled laboratory conditions. These studies are then extended to progressively more complex systems (field plots, catchments, rivers basins) at increasingly larger scales.

Development of a Critical Zone integrated model for soil processes combines methods from physical hydrology and biogeochemical simulations with carbon transformation and ecosystem food web dynamics.

At the same time, higher-level analysis based on decision support tools being developed from Life Cycle Analysis and Economic Valuation approaches, feeds back to the fundamental studies. This helps identify the most urgent problems and targets the fundamental scientific research. This two-way transfer of knowledge is a strongly integrating activity that builds constructive engagement between all partners and disciplines.

The four SoilTrEC CZOs represent key stages in the life cycle of soils; from soil formation, through productive use, to severe degradation of soils. Understanding evolution of soil processes through this life cycle is a new aspect of soils research that the international community is currently not addressing.

SoilTrEC will utilise international dissemination and training as integrating activities that build engagement between consortium partners, and also between researchers and stakeholder partners who are involved. These include EC policy teams, national agencies, companies and land managers.


The focus of research activities on the CZOs creates an unprecedented critical mass of effort in soils research within a single project.

Laboratory data sets and mathematical modelling of soil processes will provide some of the most comprehensive data sets ever obtained on soil function from nano to soil profile scale.

Detailed process models of physical hydrology, biogeochemistry, carbon dynamics and the soil food web at the EU CZOs will provide the first ever evaluation of soil functions at different stages of the soil life cycle.

Soil processes will be evaluated with the CZ integrated model, from catchment to river basin scale. This includes prototype results for upscaling to assess European soil threats.

The 4 SoilTrEC CZOs will be integrated with additional EU, USA and Chinese field sites as the first global network of CZOs. This enables soil processes and threats to be studied along environmental gradients at planetary scale.

The CZ integrated model will be applied across the global network of sites. This will create a major, new evidence base for policy in the EU, EU member states as well as the US and China.

Pro-active engagement with stakeholders draws on the knowledge gained from the CZO network, the modelling and decision support. This will be extended by studying affiliated sites where land management is presumed sustainable and will provide evidence-based guidance for sustainable soil management practice.

Project Partners

1 University of Sheffield GB
2 N. Poushkarov Institute for Soil Sciences BG
3 Technical University of Crete GR
4 Deltares NL
5 European Community represented by the European Commission – Directorate General Joint Research Centre EU
6 University of Iceland IS
7 Wageningen University NL
8 University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences AT
9 NERC – Centre for Ecology and Hydrology GB
10 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich) CH
11 Czech Geological Survey CZ
12 Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning CAAS CN
13 The Pennsylvania State University US
14 Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SE
15 Centre National de la Recherche Scientfique CNRS FR

Publications - Presentations