A New Decision Support System To Quantify The Soil Sealing Impacts On Soil Ecosystem Functions

Soil sealing is one of the worst global land degradation problems and is mainly related to diffuse urbanization and misplaced spatial planning. In last few years it has come to the attention of decision-makers and scientific communities who are trying, in a joint effort, mitigate the phenomenon.

Soil sealing is a complex problem that should not be perceived as a simple sealing of surfaces with concrete. Rather it involves a drastic reduction in the ecosystem and functional services that the soil offers to humans, else in areas adjacent the sealed surfaces. Sealed soils can no longer sustain crops and have a  consecutive reduction of yield production, they cannot retain surface rainwater flows which can lead to erosion and floods, or filter and purify the water that recharges our aquifers.

Sealed soils are unable to trap and sequester atmospheric CO2 and therefore participate in combating climate change. The problem, therefore, needs to be tackled using instruments that can quantify both the sealing process and the reduction in ecosystem services that are essential to our land use management.

Difference in runoff from rainfall events from natural vs. urban environments

This is why we need tools that can monitor the sealing progress, simulate the events, and represent these complex processes by helping us to predict environmental impacts.

Thanks to the recent development of new informatics technologies, applied in environmental sciences and soil science- today we have new operational tools capable of responding to complex issues.

A team of Italian researchers from the University of Napoli (CRISP research center), the National Council of Research (Institute for the Mediterranean Agricultural and Forestry Systems) worked in collaboration with ARIESPACE a small-sized enterprise specialized in remote sensing and software engineering. The development within the European group was a web-based Spatial Decision Support System (web-SDSS) – based on a Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure. The aim, of which, is applying the technology as an operational instrument aimed towards environmental issues, including soil sealing mitigation.

SOILCONSWEB focuses on soil sealing issues and allows users, via the web, to produce ‘what-if’ land planning scenarios thanks to the ‘on-the-fly’ modeling engines. Therefore, integrated geospatial quantitative data and procedures can be directly and freely used by users.

The most important feature of SOILCONSWEB lies in its ability to quantitatively simulate time-varying processes and to quantitatively calculate the negative effects of soil sealing on such processes.

The tool has been successfully applied from local to landscape scale in an area in the South of Italy and it is ready to be applied wherever input data are available to run the simulation models. In the soil sealing application, SOILCONSWEB, outputs include quantification of rural fragmentation, loss of soil ecosystem services, and the estimate of soil sealing evolution over time.

Future Research

Web-based SDSS technologies are evolving and spreading rapidly. Their application is coupled with the increasing computational capacity for managing big data. The evolution of dynamic modeling and remote sensing technologies including satellites and drones leaves space for imagination on future environmental applications.

Future Spatial Decision Support Systems will operate on global databases and will be connected in real time with remote sensing data. Their model-based elaborations will provide on-the-fly responses to different scenarios. For example, “What happens to the ecosystem if we build a new car park in this area?”. Then they will provide decision makers, experts, researchers, and citizens with the information they need to make the right decision.

This study, Soil Sealing: Quantifying Impacts on Soil Functions by a Geospatial Decision Support System was recently published by Piero Manna in the journal Land Degradation & Development.

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