Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

How does a loss of soil depth impact on the ability of soils to deliver vital ecosystem services - SP1317

Soil provides society with vital goods and services which are ultimately linked to human health and well-being, and contribute to the country’s economic status. In order to formulate and implement policies that safeguard the capacity of soil to deliver these goods and services, it is essential to understand the complex relationships between soil properties (physical, biological and chemical) and soil functions).

The aim of this project is to evaluate whether a loss of one of these properties (soil depth) leads to a change in soil functions and the associated delivery of ecosystem goods and services. Particular focus will be on three services: provision of food (crop production); hydrological regulation (flooding risk and ground water recharge); and climate regulation (carbon storage). The project will also examine the soil degradation processes that lead to a loss in soil depth, and how these can be controlled or even reversed by soil formation processes and/or soil management practices. Finally, the project will assess the current state of soil resources in England and Wales in terms of soil depth.
Objective 1: An examination of the current evidence base.
The project will collate and review the current evidence base on:
a) the relationships between soil depth, soil functions, and ecosystem goods and services with regard to different soil types, land uses, climates and ecosystem services (with focus on food production, and the regulation of water and climate). We will analyse the sensitivity of crop yields, hydrological response and levels of soil organic carbon to changes in soil depth.

b) the causes and rates of changes in soil depth (including losses [degradation] and gains [formation]). Loss in soil depth occurs through soil erosion by water and wind, compaction, loss of soil organic carbon and tillage erosion. Increases in soil depth result from soil formation, deposition of sediment, additions of organic matter or creation of artificial soils. We will investigate the evidence of change in soil depth due to these processes.

c) the current estimates of depth of soils in England and Wales. These will be drawn from sources such as the LandIs environmental information system and the National Soil Inventory.

Objective 2: Modelling and experimental approaches to enhance the evidence base Data on meaningful, detectable changes in soil depth and their impacts on soil functions are limited. We will strengthen the evidence base and fill some significant research gaps by generating data in a series of field and laboratory experiments. We will also improve models that simulate the relationships between soil depth, soil functions and the provision of ecosystem services.

Objective 3: Analysis and projections The research will update estimates of current and future soil depth, given the rates of degradation processes that lead to soil depth depletion. Maps will be created showing the spatial distribution of soils where loss in soil depth may be compromising the soils’
ability both now and in the future to deliver vital ecosystem goods and services.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2013

To: 2016

Cost: £299,531
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Cranfield University