The program consists of several components such as:

  • Soil erosion research to study erosion processes and erosion rates.
  • Development of methods (erosion, remote sensing, GIS, etc.).
  • Assessment program, based on methods developed in Iceland.
  • The use of the results, for improved land use, education etc.

Soil erosion processes in Iceland are extremely active, and also quite varied. They include erosion by wind and water, landslides and cryogenic processes. Conventional methods to assess soil erosion in agricultural fields, such as the USLE and Wind Erosion Equation (and similar models), are poorly suited for Icelandic conditions.

The Icelandic erosion assessment program is based on classification of erosion forms that can be identified in the landscape. The system resembles a system used for erosion mapping in New Zealand, but also has some features similar to Australian systems. Some of the erosion forms in Iceland are uncommon in the agricultural areas of the world. The major erosion forms in Iceland are (the Table is linked to photographs):

More information about each of the erosion forms can be found under Soil Erosion – Results.

Erosion severity is estimated on a scale 0-5 (the Table is linked to photographs):

0 No erosion
1 Slight erosion
2 Moderate erosion
3 Considerable erosion
4 Severe erosion
5 Very severe erosion

A major purpose of the program was to provide guidance for sustainable use of the land. The program was not designed to map causes for erosion, which are considered as varying interaction of factors. It is the present that matters; to use the land in such a manner that its condition improves, but does not degrade. The most severe erosion classes (4 and 5) are not considered suitable for grazing, and erosion class 3 is subjected to closer look and management decisions. Deserts are considered unsuitable for grazing, the nature should be given the benefit of doubt and a chance to heal itself (natural succesion).

The erosion is mapped in the field with the aid of infrared LANDSAT images (1:100 000) which also serve as base maps. All data is stored and handled digitally in a GIS system (Geographical Information System). The program to assess soil erosion in Iceland was started in 1990 with a development phase, but large scale field work began in 1993 and was completed in 1996. Erosion has now been mapped in all of Iceland and the information is stored in a readily accessable database for all the various projects related to the condition and use of the land. The database consists of about 18 000 polygons with information about erosion type and severity. In addition, the digital database contains information about all outlines of communities, commons, vegetation information, elevation models and other information relevant to land use planning.

The results were published in a comprehensive document, which has now been translated into English. For ordering information, click here.

The project is oriented toward the end users, which include the general public, farmers, local communities and schools, planning authorities, legislature, researchers, and the Soil Conservation Service. The methods have been explained in meetings in most of the local communites in Iceland, where erosion maps (on top of satellite imges) were handed out.

Landlęsi Explanation of erosion in Iceland was published in the booklet "To read the land" (In Icelandic). It offers simple explanations of symptoms of soil erosion and the condition of the land. It was printed in large numbers and distributed for free.
One point should be stressed: the assessment program was not designed to map causes of soil erosion. Its primary purpose is to provide information so that land-use can be adjusted to sustainable levels in the present. Deserts and areas where erosion is severe should not be used for grazing, as such use accelerates the erosion or prevents nature to use its immense power to "heal the wounds".
The results of the project have greatly influenced soil conservation work in Iceland.
  • The results have greatly enhanced awareness of poor condition of Icelandic soils, both among land users and the general public.
  • The technology developed during the project and its results are the foundation for the Icelandic SCS planning department and for planning conservation strategies.
  • The methods employed provide new tools to investigate the condition of the land where needed and to pin-point research to the most pressing areas and processes.
  • The results have stressed the need for new law for soil conservation in Iceland. (See: Arnalds,O and B.H. Barkarson, 2003).
  • The program has provided a platform for international co-operation. Iceland hosted an International Workshop on rangeland desertification in September 1997, ( the proceedings were published in two books, one by Kluwer and another published in Iceland.
  • The project received the Nordic Council "Nature and Environmental Award" in 1998.

The project is presently maintained as information center and is now a part of daily operations of both the Agricultural Research Institute and the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service.

Edited by Olafur Arnalds and Einar Gretarsson
Agricultural Research Institute of Iceland.

Last updated on 29/3/2000 by EG