Projections of soil loss by water erosion in Europe by 2050

Panagos, Panos; Ballabio, Cristiano; Himics, Mihaly; Scarpa, Simone; Matthews, Francis; Bogonos, Mariia; Poesen, Jean; Borrelli, Pasquale

VL / 124 - BP / 380 - EP / 392
Changes in future soil erosion rates are driven by climatic conditions, land use patterns, socio-economic development, farmers' choices, and importantly modified by agro-environmental policies. This study simulates the impact of expected climatic and land use change projections on future rates of soil erosion by water (sheet and rill processes) in 2050 within the agricultural areas of the European Union and the UK, compared to a current representative baseline (2016). We used the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) adjusted at continental scale with projections of future rainfall erosivity and land use change. Future rainfall erosivity is predicted using an average composite of 19 Global Climate Models (GCMs) from the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Projects (CMIP5) WorldClim dataset across three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). Concerning future land use change and crop dynamics, we used the projections provided by the Common Agricultural Policy Regional Impact Analysis (CAPRI) model. Depending on the RCP scenario, we estimate a +13 %-22.5 % increase in the mean soil erosion rate in the EU and UK, rising from an estimated 3.07 t ha(-1) yr(-1) (2016) to between 3.46 t ha(-1) yr(-1) (RCP2.6 scenario) and 3.76 t ha(-1) yr(-1) (RCP8.5 scenario). Here, we disentangle the impact of land use change and climate change in relation to future soil losses. Projected land use change in the EU and UK indicates an overall increase of pasture coverage in place of croplands. This land use change is estimated to reduce soil erosion rates (-3%). In contrast, the increases in future rainfall erosivity (+15.7 %-25.5 %) will force important increases of soil erosion requiring further targeted intervention measures. Given that agro-environmental policies will be the most effective mechanisms to offset this future increase in soil erosion rates, this study proposes soil conservation instruments foreseen in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to run policy scenarios. A targeted application of cover crops in soil erosion hotspots combined with limited soil disturbance measures can partially or completely mitigate the effect of climate change on soil losses. Effective mitigation of future soil losses requires policy measures for soil conservation on at least 50 % of agricultural land with erosion rates above 5 t ha(-1) yr(-1).

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