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Provincial soil-quality monitoring networks in the Netherlands as an instrument for environmental protection

Author: Busink, E.R.V. · Postma, S.
Institution: Nederlands Instituut voor Toegepaste Geowetenschappen TNO
Source:Geologie en Mijnbouw/Netherlands Journal of Geosciences, 4, 79, 429-440
Identifier: 235824
Keywords: Geosciences · Environment · Groundwater quality · Heavy metals · Monitoring · Nitrate · Soil quality · environmental protection · monitoring system · soil quality · Netherlands · Geological Survey Netherlands · Energy / Geological Survey Netherlands


Since 1991, several provinces in the Netherlands have put much effort in establishing soil-quality monitoring networks. The purpose of these networks is to provide insight in the trends in (geochemical) soil quality, on which new policies for environmental protection can be based, such as restrictions in certain landuse types and cleaner production processes. The soil quality networks are yet too young to serve this goal. Monitoring efforts are concentrated on micro- and macro-elements, particularly in the top layer of the soil (mainly heavy metals and PAH) as well as phreatic groundwater (mainly nitrates and phosphates) in the various regions of a province. The regional soil-quality monitoring networks focus explicitly on diffuse environmental pollution in the rural areas, which means that sample sites influenced by soil pollution caused by local sources are excluded. Regional differences in soil quality in the rural areas are primarily caused by chemical and physical differences in the natural soil composition and by differences in deposition loads (direct and indirect). Hydrological conditions can also exert a large influence, particularly for nitrate leaching. This leads to three major criteria which the network design is based upon: (1) soil type, (2) landuse (assumed to be representative for deposition), and (3) groundwater tables. Subregions are formed by combining these criteria. Subregions are considered to be more or less homogeneous at a regional scale with respect to the criteria named. Within each region, a pre-calculated number of sites, based on variability of present concentrations, have been sampled and the sample material has been analyzed. Descriptive statistical parameters could thus computed; they are the base for the geochemical soil mapping of the individual, homogeneous subregions. A recent evaluation of all operational soil-quality monitoring networks shows that these networks are effective instruments to gain insight into the differences in quality of the soil and the phreatic groundwater between the various regions. The understanding of these differences and the processes that caused them provide the provincial authorities with valuable information for policy making and environmental management. The evaluation also reveals differences in network designs, mostly due to local differences in physical-chemical properties and political choices. It can be concluded from the first results of the networks that the relative high loads of zinc and copper, caused by spreading manure on the farmlands in areas of intensive agricultural landuse, have led to notably higher concentrations of these elements in the top layer of the soil compared to more natural lands like forested areas. The fact that the intensive agricultural landuse is mainly situated on relatively highly permeable sandy soils results in high nitrate concentrations in the phreatic groundwater, up to concentrations far beyond EG drinking-water target levels. First monitoring results signalled several environmental problems of which most of the policy makers were already aware, but could not quantify. Delineation of the most vulnerable areas and/or areas with unacceptably high loads and quantification of concentrations of different elements enable regional governments to take appropriate measures. The soil-quality monitoring networks will focus in the coming years on the effectiveness of the measures taken in the various areas. Efforts are being made to integrate the relatively new soil-quality monitoring networks and the longer existing groundwater-quality monitoring networks to achieve a better understanding of the (bio)geochemical cycling processes. Tuning the individual regional soil-quality monitoring networks of the various provinces will enable the provision of additional information about soil quality at a larger scale.