Discover the NBSOIL Glossary, a comprehensive compilation of key terms and concepts related to sustainable soil management. Navigate through a curated collection of definitions to enhance your understanding of soil health, translated into the seven project languages.

  • Aerobic

    In the context of a medium, it is characterised by the presence of molecular oxygen, O2. For example, well-aerated soils with good drainage conditions.

  • Agroecology

    An integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. As a science, it studies how different components of the agro-ecosystem interact. As a set of practices, it seeks sustainable farming systems that optimise and stabilise yields. As a movement, it pursues food sovereignty and new, multifunctional roles for agriculture.

  • Anaerobic

    Describing organisms capable of living in the absence of molecular oxygen. It’s important to distinguish between facultative anaerobes, which can live both in the presence and absence of molecular oxygen, and strict anaerobes, which can only live in the absence of molecular oxygen and use a specific compound as an electron acceptor (anaerobic respiration). For instance, the bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans can use sulfate anions as electron acceptors, reducing them to sulfide anions.

  • Anthropogenic

    Generated by humans. If focusing on soil, it’s used to indicate conditions, disturbances, or stresses that are created by human activities.

  • Arable land

    The total areas under temporary crops, temporary meadows and pastures, and land with temporary fallow.

  • Arthropods

    Invertebrate animals with jointed legs, exoskeleton, and a segmented body. They include insects, crustaceans, sowbugs, springtails, arachnids (spiders), and others. Soil arthropods are involved in many soil processes and are used to define soil quality.

  • Bacteria

    Single-celled organisms classified as prokaryotes. They come in different shapes such as spherical, rod-shaped, or spiral cells, and have diverse forms of metabolism that make them highly adaptable to different environmental conditions. Bacteria, as major soil heterotrophs, play key roles in carbon transformations and nutrient cycling, improving soil fertility. They can also regulate soil structure and create healthy soil environments to protect plants from pathogenic agents and increase crop yields.

  • Bedrock

    The mineral substrate that forms the soil. It may consist of more or less consolidated rock and sediments or, locally, be exposed at the surface. The bedrock is also known as the R horizon.

  • Biodiversity

    Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

  • Biological control

    The use of biological agents (intact organisms, components derived from organisms) to destroy or deter pests or to promote natural enemies.

  • Biomass

    Biomass is organic material of biological origin (plants and animals). The term can be used for agro-industrial effluents and waste, energy crops, materials harvested from nature (e.g. wood) or the organic fraction of waste. Biomass can be used as a raw material for the production of biofuels, to improve soil fertility and health, to increase carbon storage or as an alternative to fossil raw materials in biorefineries and industrial processes.

  • Bioremediation

    Bioremediation is a process of detoxifying or degrading contaminants present in the soil, wastewater, or industrial sludge by biological means. Microorganisms, plants, microbial or plant enzymes can be used in this process, although plant-assisted bioremediation is often termed phytoremediation. The NBSOIL Project will focus on the application of this as an NBS in the field of brownfield redevelopment where it has great potential as most of the contaminated sites are not managed due to the high economic costs of recovering the soil.

  • Carbon cycle

    A sequence of transformations whereby carbon dioxide is converted to organic forms by photosynthesis or chemosynthesis, recycled through the biosphere (with partial incorporation into sediments), and ultimately returned to its original state through respiration or combustion.

  • Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

    The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the agricultural policy for all countries of the European Union. Launched in 1962, it is managed and funded at the European level from the resources of the EU’s budget. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) receives 31% of the EU budget and is structured in two pillars. The first pillar includes direct payments and market measures, while the second pillar focuses on measures to promote rural development.

  • Composting

    Composting is the aerobic microbial decomposition of organic materials, such as agricultural wastes, urban organic waste, and mowing residues. This process is typically accomplished by regularly turning and aerating organic biomass stored in heaps with a geometry that promotes effective aeration. During this transformation, the most readily degradable organic fractions undergo oxidation and are converted into stable organic matter, which can be utilised in agriculture as a fertiliser and as a method of biological control. Simultaneously, the resulting product becomes more homogeneous and reduces in volume due to water loss and fragmentation by organisms.

    In addition to these benefits, composting helps decrease the initial phytotoxicity of the organic materials used, disinfects the materials, and reduces the germinability of any weed seeds.

  • Conventional farming

    Conventional farming systems are described (not exclusively) as being based on intensive use of agrochemicals to maximize agricultural productions, and encompassing the use of machinery and intensive tillage to manipulate the soil physical properties and to control weeds, mono-cropping, and limited recycling of materials.

  • Cover crop

    Cover crops are a close-growing crop that provides soil protection between periods of normal crop production. Cover crops can enhance soil conservation, climate resilience, and improve soil health, all the while mitigating various environmental impacts linked to conventional soil management in agriculture.

  • Crop rotation

    The temporal alternation of different crops and crop types (monocots vs dicots, annual vs perennial) on a piece of farm land.

  • Desertification

    The process in which relatively dry land becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. Desertification can be a natural process or be caused by climate change or indirectly via soil degradation resulting from poor management.

  • Ecosystem service

    The contributions of ecosystems to benefits used in economic and other human activity. Ecosystem services can be broadly grouped under these three categories, following the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) Ecosystem Accounting: 1) Provisioning services, which represent the material and energy contributions generated by or in an ecosystem (i.e. fish or plants with pharmaceutical properties); 2) Regulating services, which result from the capacity of ecosystems to regulate climate, hydrologic and biochemical cycles, Earth surface processes, and a variety of biological processes; 3) Cultural services, which are generated from the physical settings, locations, or situations that give rise to intellectual and symbolic benefits obtained by people from ecosystems through recreation, knowledge development, relaxation, and spiritual reflection.

  • Erosion

    The wearing away of the land surface by water, wind, ice, gravity, or other natural or anthropogenic agents that abrade, detach, and remove soil particles or rock material from one point on the earth’s surface, for deposition elsewhere, including gravitational creep and so-called tillage erosion.

  • Eutrophication

    Eutrophication is the process by which a water body, such as a lake or a soil solution, becomes enriched with dissolved nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus. While it can occur naturally, it is often the result of pollution. Eutrophication may lead to algal blooms, which can deplete oxygen in the water and harm aquatic life.

  • Fertilization

    The application of mineral or organic compounds to maintain or increase soil fertility. In some cases, (e.g. liming) the purpose of fertilization is also to improve specific soil properties (pH, stability of soil structure).

  • Forest diversification

    Forest diversification is the practice of managing forests to increase their biodiversity by introducing variability in its composition (multiple species and varieties), structure (mixed tree heights in mixed age stands and heterogeneous arrangement and density of the tree plantation) and genotypic complexity (diverse genetic sources). NBSOIL aims to boost moving away from clear-cutting timber harvesting and monoculture tree plantation to prevent erosion and landslides, improve water quality and increase resistance to wildfires and wind storms.

  • Green infrastructure

    Green and blue infrastructures are a strategically planned network of interrelated natural and semi-natural areas with environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. Green (land) and blue (water) can improve environmental conditions, support the green economy, and enhance climate change adaptation in cities as they provide evaporative cooling, rainwater infiltration surfaces, wind speed reduction, and improve air quality.

  • Horizon

    A horizon is a layer, approximately parallel to the surface of the soil that is distinguishable from adjacent layers by a distinctive set of properties produced by the soil-forming processes. Most soils have three major layers: A horizon (or topsoil); B horizon (or subsoil); and C horizon (or substratum). Some also have an organic horizon (O), an eluvial horizon (E), and a bedrock (R).

  • Intensification

    Intensification in agriculture is a process that aims to increase production per hectare by increasing the use of various inputs, including labor, information, energy, fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery, relative to the available land area. However, when intensification can lead to elevated environmental pressure, particularly in terms of excessive fertilizer and pesticide use.

  • Land health

    The capacity of land, relative to its potential, to sustain the delivery of ecosystem services.

  • Manure

    Manure is a type of fertilization composed of livestock excrements, as such or including bedding material.

  • Monoculture

    Monoculture is a prevalent practice in industrial agriculture, involving the cultivation of a single plant species, often the same variety, over a large area for several consecutive years.

  • Mulching

    Mulching is a farming practice that involves covering the soil surface, typically with organic materials or plastic sheets, to promote soil and water conservation, control weeds, deter pests, and maintain favorable and stable conditions for plant growth.

  • Natural capital

    Natural capital is regularly understood as the stock of ecosystems on Earth, including air, water, biodiversity, and geodiversity. This stock underpins our economy and society by producing value for people, both directly and indirectly. Goods and services provided to humans by sustainably managed natural capital include a range of social and environmental benefits, including clean air and water, climate change mitigation and adaptation, food, energy, places to live, materials for products, recreation, and protection from hazards.

  • Nature-based solution

    Actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, which address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

  • No tillage (NT)

    No-tillage is a key agronomic practice in Conservation Agriculture for annual crops. It is defined as a farming method that avoids disturbing the soil through tillage. In no-tillage, at least 30% of the area should be covered by plant residues immediately after crop establishment. Crops are sown using machinery capable of placing seeds through the plant residues from previous crops.

    No-tillage is the primary agronomic practice that characterises Conservation Agriculture for annual crops, and it offers the highest level of soil conservation. This is because it completely eliminates mechanical tillage of the soil. Additionally, in arid climates, no-tillage helps retain water in the soil by reducing evaporation losses from the soil surface, which are typically increased by conventional tillage involving soil inversion.

  • Organic farming

    Organic farming is a production system that avoids synthetic chemicals and promotes natural practices to grow crops and raise livestock. It prioritizes environmental and soil health while avoiding GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and antibiotics. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.

  • Organic fertilizer

    Organic fertilizers consist of plant or animal-based materials that result from byproducts or end products of naturally occurring processes, such as animal manure and composted organic matter. In the NBSOIL Project we consider organic fertilisers that produced from locally available biowastes and distributed based on proximity criteria. Organic fertilising comes with several benefits in soil health, plant growth and productivity and prevent the emission of CO2 from fossil fuel-derived fertilisers.

  • Paludiculture

    Peatlands are a type of wetland critical for climate change mitigation. Paludiculture is the productive land use of wet and rewetted peatlands that preserves the peat soil and thereby minimizes CO2 emissions and subsidence. The NBSOIL Project will focus on wet agriculture and forestry on peatlands, involving the rewetting of European temperate peatlands.

  • Resilience

    The ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions.

  • Soil biodiversity

    Soil biodiversity has been defined as the variety of life below ground, from genes and species to the communities they form, as well as the ecological complexes to which they contribute and to which they belong, from soil micro-habitats to landscape.

  • Soil biology

    Soil biology is the scientific discipline that studies the living organisms and their interactions within the soil ecosystem.

  • Soil fertility

    The ability to sustain plant growth by providing essential plant nutrients and favorable chemical, physical, and biological characteristics.

  • Soil health

    The continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, promote the quality of air and water environments, and maintain plant, animal, and human health.

  • Soil quality

    Soil’s ability to perform its functions in natural or managed ecosystems, maintain plant and animal productivity, preserve or enhance water and air quality, and provide favorable conditions for human health and settlements.

  • Texture

    The relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles in a mass of soil. Texture can be coarse (sand particles predominate), medium (equal parts of sand, silt, and clay), or fine (clay particles predominate). The basic textural classes, in order of increasing proportion of fine particles, are: sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt, sandy clay loam, clay loam, silty clay loam, sandy clay, silty clay, and clay. The sand, loamy sand, and sandy loam classes may be further divided by specifying “coarse,” “fine,” or “very fine.”

  • Tillage

    Tillage is the agricultural preparation of soil by a mechanical process, which may involve various activities like digging, stirring, and overturning. These activities are carried out to prepare the soil, ensuring it achieves suitable physical conditions for sowing and the growth of crops. Tillage serves various purposes, such as breaking compactions, incorporating crop residues, manures, fertilizers, or weeds, preparing the seedbed, and controlling weeds.