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Soil map: the negative impact of human activity is greatly overrated

2014-05-15

While maintaining mutual cooperation, the Geological Surveys of Europe completed the GEMAS project and published the geochemical atlas of agricultural and grazing land soil of Europe.

Launched in 2008, this project was aimed at obtaining harmonised and comparable data on the chemical composition of soils used for agriculture that meet the needs of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy and REACH Regulation.

The Lithuanian Geological Survey carried out the field work under this project in 52 reference points, coordinated the organisational work of the Baltic countries, analysed and summarised data. All information related to the GEMAS project is available on the website of the Geological Survey of Austria. It also includes references to the methodological instructions for field work, the laboratory quality control report and the GoogleEarth-based reference working photograph database.

The map contains data on the chemical composition of the upper soil layer of 2 108 arable land plots (in the depth of 0–20 cm) and 2 023 pastures (at the depth of 0–10 cm) in 33 European countries. The territory of Lithuania is described on the basis of the reference soil pits in 26 arable land plots and 26 pastures.


Co-authors of the Map – Virgilija Gregorauskienė and Petras Pūtys, Chief Specialists of the Hydrogeology Division at the Geological Survey of Lithuania.

The agrochemical and sanitary condition of soils used for agriculture in certain European regions was evaluated on the basis of the collected database. It was determined that the geochemical composition of the upper soil layer of arable land and pastures is very similar and comparable; therefore, these soils can serve as reliable substitutes for each other for the purpose of geochemical mapping.

Particularly large variations of the average values of elements were detected in the soils of certain European countries, for example, the median values of nickel in Poland and Macedonia differ by 22 times, and the background values of mercury in Slovenian soils exceed those of Lithuania by 7.2 times. Therefore, it is pointless to determine the general geochemical background of European soils allowing calculating the general limit values of trace elements in soil.


The quantity of arsenic in the soil of arable fields showing the limit of continental glaciations and the difference in background values between northern and southern European countries.

The controlling factor of the quality of European agricultural soils is their natural and geological nature showing the distribution of deposits of parent alkaline or acidic rocks and minerals. The amount of many elements (arsenic, bismuth, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, lead) in north-eastern Europe, i.e. in the territory covered with glaciogenic sediments, is two-three times lower than in south-western Europe where soils were formed directly in the weathering crust of rocks. It is obvious that the spread of certain elements (mercury, phosphorus, sulphur, selenium) depends on the marine-continental climate factor and the distribution of organic soils formed under the influence of this factor.


Spatial distribution of the mobile quantity of cadmium in the soil of arable fields and its anomalies in the karst regions and nearby the major European metallurgical centres.

The collected data on the soil of arable land and pastures in the European countries show that the impacts of human agricultural activity on the soil are surprisingly low; besides, it is obvious that the influence of long-range air pollution and pollutants on the quality of soil is overrated.

The evaluation of the amount of toxic elements and other trace elements that are essential for plant growth has revealed that more attention should be paid not only to the surplus of pollutants but also to the control and regulation of the deficiency of elements that are essential nutrients for plants in soil.


The distribution and dependency of lead anomalies and lead processing companies showing that strong but not wide anomalies were detected nearby longtime metallurgical companies operating only in the old mining regions where the soil forming rocks are naturally enriched with lead.

Public Information Division
15 May 2014

Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas
Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas