Soil information system : Soil information systems and (digital) soil map

The project investigated how other European countries generate soil maps and how they make this information available.

Background (completed research project)

Precise spatial soil information provides an important basis for the sustainable use of soil as a resource. This information is not available for a large part of Switzerland's territory. In order to efficiently remedy this gap, the project looked at how other European countries collect soil data and how they make it accessible.


The aim of the project was to obtain an overview of the availability of soil information in European countries. In pursuit of this objective, ongoing and completed mapping projects were aggregated and their content and methodology analysed. Furthermore, it was examined which soil information is available and how access is regulated.


Availability of soil maps : The most detailed countrywide soil maps are to be found in the former Eastern bloc states. In Western Europe, Belgium and Austria accomplished a nationwide mapping on a scale of 1:20,000 and 1:25,000 respectively. Apart from Germany and the Netherlands, no other Western European country has medium- or large-scale countrywide maps. More detailed soil information is frequently available at the subregion level (e.g. Germany's federal states).

Current soil mappings : In 16 of the 38 countries observed, new soil maps were produced or existing atlases updated in the last ten years. The harmonisation and evaluation of available archive data play a key role here. Statistical methods (soil modelling, digital soil mapping) were used in one third of the countries.

Soil information systems : More than two thirds of the countries observed have a soil information system which for the most part is freely accessible. In many cases, application maps are available for specific soil issues.

Research applications

Methodological aspects : Direct digital data capture in the field was successfully employed in at least four European mapping projects. Given the significant improvement in data quality, this method should also be used in Swiss mappings.

Real-life applications

Organisation of soil mapping : The collection of soil information is publicly funded in Europe. Soil information is collected at national level, except where federal territories stretch over large areas, as is the case in Germany. A national agency (centre of excellence) mandated to renew and continually optimise mapping methodologies needs to be created for Switzerland. Continuing the current practice of assigning this task to the cantons is inefficient.

Nationwide multifunctional soil assessment : In Europe, assessments draw on homogeneous comprehensive soil information collected nationwide. Switzerland is thus not alone in requiring countrywide soil data. Focusing on a specific problem (e.g. the determination of fruit rotation areas) reduces mapping time and overheads only marginally.

Swiss soil information platform : A central, freely accessible soil information platform is an expedient starting point. The platform should be connected to a data service centre since soil data are complex and users mostly require interpretation of the original mapped soil data.

Original title

Soil information systems and (digital) soil map projects in Europe: what can Switzerland learn?

Principal investigator

  • Andreas Jürg Papritz, ETH Zurich
  • Stéphane Burgos, BFH
  • Marco Carizzoni, BABU GmbH
  • Armin Keller, Agroscope
  • Fabio Wegmann, FOEN