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Project Regional pilot platform as EU contribution to a Global Soil Observing System

Soil and terrain information is needed for many interpretations for example in the field of agriculture, environment, watershed management, infrastructure, etc. but available data are often inaccessible, incomplete, or out of date. The Group on Earth Observations - GEO plans a Global Earth Observing System and, within this framework, the e-SOTER project addresses the felt need for a global soil and terrain database. As the European contribution to a Global Soil Observing System, it will deliver a web-based regional pilot platform with data, methodologies, and applications, using remote sensing to validate, augment and extend existing data.

The project e-SOTER is a collaborative research  project of 14 partners in Europe, China and Morocco, with European Union funding through the FP7 mechanism.  

The e-SOTER project is funded by EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Project number n/a
Acronym e-SOTER
Geographical coverage Czech Republic, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, China, Morocco
Budget (in €) 0
Programme FP7 INCO
Web site

Soil and land information is needed for policy-making, hands-on management of land resources, and monitoring of the environmental impact of development. Lack of comprehensive information about land resources - globally, nationally or locally - means uninformed policies, continuing degradation of land and water resources, unnecessary carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and no likelihood of achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The viability and cost of vital infrastructure is affected just as much as food and water security and response to environmental change. In the case of the European Soil Thematic Strategy, the operational measures laid down in the Framework Directive and Impact Assessment are hamstrung by lack of accessible, easy-to-use, consistent, harmonized and relevant soil data.

Present situation

The only harmonized global soil information is the FAO-Unesco Soil Map of the World at scale 1:5 million (FAO-Unesco 1974-1981); for Europe, the 1986 Soil map of the European Communities at scale 1:1 million (CEC 1985) is supported by the Soil geographical database for Eurasia and the Mediterranean (Lambert et al. 2002). A much-improved methodology for a World Soil and Terrain database (SOTER) incorporates quantitative information on both soils and terrain (van Engelen and Wen 1995). Figure 1 depicts the present status of SOTER compilation. Figure 2 illustrates the SOTER attribute data model that can contain up to 118 unique attributes of a soil and terrain unit.

e-SOTER adds value by:

  • using remotely-sensed data both to validate and correct existing survey data
  • generating new data surfaces 
  • improving the quality of results of applications previously based on legacy data alone 
  • providing a freely accessible web service that delivers both selected data in an easy-to-use format and procedures to compile e-SOTER databases locally and upload these data to the European database if they meet prescribed quality standards.

The project addresses four major barriers to a comprehensive soil observing system:

  • Morphometric descriptions - enabling quantitative mapping of landforms as opposed to crude slope categories. This will build upon EU- initiated DEM landform classification procedures (Dobos et al. 2005);
  • Soil parent material characterization and pattern recognition by remote sensing - enabling separation of soil processes within the landscape;
  • Soil pattern recognition by remote sensing;
  • Standardization of methods and measures of soil attributes to convert legacy data already held in the European Geographical Soil Database and various national databases to a common standard - so that they may be applied, e.g. in predictive and descriptive models of soil behavior.

The project objectives that contribute to the lifting of the four major barriers described above are:

  1. Morphometric descriptions of the landforms both in an enhanced SOTER DEM methodology as well in newly developed DEM analysis using natural breaks. The existing DEM that will form the basis for the morphometric analysis will be filtered and enhanced to obtain an artifact-free product. The end product will be a landform layer in the 1:1 million scale window and 1:250 000 scale pilot areas.
  2. Soil parent material characterization using remote sensing and legacy data will generate a parent material classification relevant for soil development, and parent material pattern within the window and pilot areas.
  3. Soil pattern recognition will use existing data and converting these into a standardized SOTER format. Remote sensing will generate additional predictors of soil properties. End products will be a soil layer in the window and pilot areas with standardized soil attributes.

Additional project objectives will be:

  • Quality assessment of e-SOTER. This will be achieved by a validation and uncertainty analysis.
  • Applications of the newly acquired e-SOTER in the field of major soil threats and comparisons with applications based on earlier datasets.
  • Dissemination of the results of the project through stake-holder conferences and through web-based services.

The end product will be a regional pilot platform with methodologies, concepts and applications that, together, will facilitate:

  • An enhanced SOTER database methodology at scale 1:1 million for Europe and the world;
  • Ways of generating finer-scale maps of specific soil and terrain attributes, and digital data, based on legacy soil survey data and remote sensing;
  • A framework for new, cost-effective field survey and monitoring programs.



Methodology and work plan

We will organize the research in a sequence of data collection, transformation, data management, interpretations and delivery. Under transformation there are two parallel thrusts that differ in scale, methodology and tools:

  1. Improvement of the current SOTER methodology at scale 1:1 million;
  2. Developing advanced methodologies at scale 1:250 000.
WP 1:  development of a landform and parent material platform methodology 
WP 2:  development of a methodology to integrate soil data from legacy and remote sensing sources 
WP 3:  improvement of the SOTER spatial and attribute data 
WP 4:  accuracy assessment of terrain and soil platforms
WP 5:  applications 
WP 6:  development of an e-SOTER dissemination platform  
WP 7:  stakeholder conferences
WP 8:  project management  
Period [01/09/2008 - 29/02/2012]