Policy relevance of Critical Zone Science | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
December 2015
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Critical Zone Science extends the definition of soils beyond the traditional pedogenetic processes. The critical zone, as the interface linking the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere matches well the concepts that have recently emerged, especially in Europe, in relation to the development of a new soil protection policy for the European Union. The European Union (EU) Soil Thematic Strategy, as presented by the European Commission in 2006, intends to address the protection of soil functions that go far beyond the limited definition of soils as the first 2-m of the surface structured in pedogenetic horizons. The seven functions that the EU wants to protect (biomass production, buffering and filtering of water, biodiversity pool, source of raw materials, support for housing and infrastructure, carbon sink and archive of cultural heritage) require considering soils in a much broader context. The full unconsolidated material from the surface to bedrock has to be included if we want to fully understand and manage the seven soil functions considered of policy relevance by the EU. Soil science needs to go beyond traditional pedological studies and enlarge its scope by including a full understanding of the critical zone. In this sense Critical Zone Science can be considered the perfect match with the emerging concepts of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy. Indeed this reflects the recent evolution from the historical relevance of soils science in the framework of a single soil function, namely agricultural production, toward a shift of the attention of the importance of soils also in other policy areas beyond agriculture, including the water policy, the climate change policy, the biodiversity policy, the energy resources policy, the cultural policy, etc. At global level, Critical Zone Science community can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals recent debates. A new scientific paradigm for soil science is needed if we want to respond to these emerging needs from new soil related policy areas. This new paradigm is Critical Zone Science and is adequately responding to these new needs going far beyond the traditional agricultural view on soils.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Montanarella, Luca
Panagos, Panos


Land Use Policy is an international and interdisciplinary journal concerned with the social, economic, political, legal, physical and planning aspects of urban and rural land use. It provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the diverse range of disciplines and interest groups which must be combined to formulate effective land use policies.

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