Soil erosion along rivers and coastal areas in Europe

One of the focus areas of OPERANDUM is to deal with soil loss and soil erosion issues. 3 of our 9 Open-Air Laboratories have invested their efforts in controlling the damage caused by erosion. Although this phenomenon is natural and has always existed, the current rate at which soil erosion is occurring is a serious issue! It is important that interventions for slowing down and preventing soil erosion are done properly. OPERANDUM is taking a leading role in this area through nature-based solutions adressing this issue.  

What is soil erosion? 

Soil erosion is defined as the wearing away of topsoil layer. It is the most fertile as it contains the most organic, nutrient-rich materials. Soil banking the rivers are eroded by one or many of the following ways.  

  1. Abrasion Large pieces of bedload material wear away the river banks and bed. 
  2. Attrition – The bed load itself is eroded when sediment particles knock against the bed or each other and break, becoming more rounded and smaller. 
  3. Hydraulic Action – When the force of water erodes softer rock. 
  4. Solution or corrosion – When acidic water erodes rock.  


Mean soil loss rates in Europe

Figure 1. Mean soil loss rates at province level for arable lands in the EU, as of 2015. (Source: Panagos et al, 2015)


Why is soil erosion a critical issue? 

Soil erosion by water in areas alongside rivers is one of the major threat, with a negative impact on ecosystem services, crop production, drinking water, and carbon stocks (Panagos et al, 2015). Every year 2.4 tonnes of valuable topsoil per hectare are lost due to water erosion in the EU-28 countries. Especially during the past decade, the problem of soil erosion has become part of the environmental agenda in the European Union (EU) due to its impacts on food production, drinking water quality, ecosystem services, mud floods, eutrophication, biodiversity and carbon stock shrinkage (Boardman and Poesen, 2006). Coastlines also undergo erosion, mainly caused by storms, high waves, sea-level rise and strong wind, or human activities on the coast (e.g. construction).  

Coastline erosion in Europe

Figure 2. Map of coastline erosion caused by the loss or displacement of land, or the long-term removal of sediment and rocks along the coastline due to the action of waves, currents, tides, wind-driven water, waterborne ice, or other impacts of storms. Data is from 10-year period analysis (2009-2019). Source: European Atlas of the Seas.


What is currently done to slow the erosion down?

Soil erosion around riversides are under constant monitoring by state and EU commissioned agencies, including European Environment Agency and European Soil Data Centre. Firstly, a continent-wide soil assessment performed will help to (a) quantify the impacts of soil loss at such a large scale, (b) assess the main effects of climate, vegetation and land use changes on soil erosion rates, and (c) prioritise effective remediation programmes. Data and results from such assessments can firstly, reveal the extent of on-going soil erosion around rivers and secondly, be used for formulating proper measures to control soil erosion. 

For example, a study conducted by EU in 2004/5 called ‘Eurosion’ suggested several ways to control erosion around coastal areas:  

  1. Restoring the sediment balance and providing space for coastal processes. 
  2. Internalise coastal erosion cost and risk in planning and investment decisions 
  3. Make responses to coastal erosion accountable 
  4. Strengthen the knowledge base of coastal erosion management and planning 

Source: Living with coastal erosion in Europe: Sediment and Space for Sustainability PART I – Major findings and Policy Recommendations of the EUROSION project. 10 May 2004 

By bringing together knowledge about the area, new technologies, manpower that will help fulfilling the idea, and a focused and common goal, the summary report of Eurosion concluded with a positive note that these steps can confidently help control soil erosion. However, a decade and a half later, we are still struggling with this issue. Clearly, the aforementioned strategies are slow and insufficient for a speedy solution. Therefore, the nature-based and green solutions that OPERANDUM provide can aid in accelerating the solution for soil erosion.  

What can OPERANDUM do? 

OPERANDUM is involved in preventing soil erosion along lakes, river basins and coastal areas. One such measure is now implemented by the OAL in Greece, where soil infiltration is being increased, such that there potentially reduced surface runoff by free draining soil. Another way erosion is being reduced is by planting floodplain or riverside woods that can sow down the water flow. In another OAL located in Australia, technologies that would slow down gully erosion and around the Great Barrier Reef are developed and implemented. Moreover, degraded land will be restored by using sustainable biotechnology practices and methods. These decisions are the first steps towards fighting soil erosion around water bodies. 

To learn more about how OPERANDUM wishes to meet these aims, visit the about OPERANDUM-page.