On UN’s World Soil Day, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reveals how it is pioneering ways to help decision-makers plan sustainable strategies against soil erosion.

Today, on World Soil Day, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) announces a pioneering project designed to help plan against the threat of soil erosion.This aligns with the annual awareness day’s theme run by the United Nations, focusing this year on the conservation of one of our most precious resources. The theme, “Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future’ addresses an issue in which Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Union, has long been focusing on. Several of the organisation’s projects are using quality climate data to inform sustainable land management practices to help save our soil.

C3S has recently awarded a Demo Case to the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) focusing on qualifying future soil erosion across Italy underpinned by climate projections up to 2100. Certain factors including soil type and steepness of slope make soil erosion more likely, but this is often further aggravated by human activities. This can then be exacerbated by triggering events such as rainfall, floods, or high winds.

As soil is a finite resource, it is vital that soil erosion is monitored. The Demo Case shows how C3S data can be used to address this important issue. Estimates of soil erosion covering past and future decades will be generated and displayed in a Climate Data Store (CDS) Application. The C3S Climate Data Store acts as a one-stop-shop for information about our past, present and future climate.

Samuel Almond, Sectoral Information System Officer at C3S, explains: “Soil erosion is now widely regarded as a major climate change cross-sectoral threat. We know that soil resources are depleting over time so it’s vital that we act now to prevent further loss. Our estimations and projections of soil erosion will be an important tool for decision makers across the affected sectors, including transport, water management and agriculture to help plan sustainable strategies.”

Monitoring soil moisture

One important factor in soil erosion is the level of moisture within it. This is also just one of the hydrological variables routinely measured by the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Its monthly climate bulletins report on the changes observed in global surface air temperature, sea ice and hydrological variables. These findings are based on computer-generated analyses using billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations all around the world.


Anomalies in precipitation, the relative humidity of surface air, the volumetric moisture content of the top 7 cm of soil and surface air temperature for November 2019 with respect to November averages for the period 1981-2010. The darker grey shading denotes where soil moisture is not shown due to ice cover or climatologically low precipitation. Data source: ERA5 Credit: ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S)

For November, C3S scientists announce that it was a mixed month for soil moisture, depending on the region:

  • Most eastern parts of Europe and around the Black Sea saw below average soil moisture, as did parts of the southern and eastern Iberian Peninsula, Iceland and western and northern Scandinavia
  • Norway in particular experienced a very dry month with many stations recording the lowest precipitation amount for any November according to MET Norway’s long term record
  • By contrast, large areas of central and western Europe experienced wetter than average conditions, particularly along the central Mediterranean which led to flooding in many areas and above average soil moisture

Soil’s influence on wildfires and atmospheric composition

A reduced moisture in the soil contributes to the wildfire threat across the globe. The ECMWF also implements the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) on behalf of the EU, which monitors the location and emissions of wildfires throughout the world through its Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS). These measurements are essential for accurately forecasting and monitoring atmospheric composition, and to develop early warning systems. In 2019, the most anomalous fires in terms of spread and emissions were in the Arctic Circle, which emitted over 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the equivalent to Sweden’s total emissions for the year. The latitude and intensity of these fires were particularly unusual due to drier conditions in general with lower precipitation and relative humidity according to the C3S climate bulletins.

Soil provides a natural source of nitrogen oxides to the atmosphere and contributes to global air quality. These emissions are a by-product of microbial processes in the soil and influenced by factors such as soil moisture, temperature, ecosystem type, and agricultural practices. Recent work in CAMS has developed an inventory of natural emissions from soil. Soil also contributes to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with soil moisture, atmospheric radiation and temperature affecting the primary production of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems and the exchange of CO2 between the land-surface and the atmosphere. Soil respiration also represents a significant natural emission source of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Further information on the C3S Demo Case for Italy on soil erosion is available here: https://climate.copernicus.eu/using-climate-data-estimate-soil-erosion

About Copernicus

Copernicus is the European Union’s flagship Earth observation programme. It delivers freely accessible operational data and information services which provide users with reliable and up-to-date information related to environmental issues.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union. ECMWF also implements the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). ECMWF is an independent intergovernmental organisation, producing and disseminating numerical weather predictions to its 34 Member and Co-operating States.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service website can be found at
The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service website can be found at http://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/
More information on Copernicus: www.copernicus.eu

The ECMWF website can be found at https://www.ecmwf.int/