GloSS - Global Soil and Sediment transfers in the Anthropocene


PAGES' GloSS working group was active from 2014 to 2018.

Anthropogenic soil erosion causes soil degradation, reduces soil productivity, compromises freshwater ecosystem services and drives geomorphic and ecological change in rivers and their floodplains. It is now well accepted that the rate of anthropogenic soil erosion exceeds the rate of soil production by several orders of magnitude in many parts of Earth (Montgomery, 2007), threatening the sustainability of food production systems that are essential to human well-being. Deposition of the eroded sediment downstream has profoundly altered the structure and function of fluvial and deltaic ecosystems, often with negative impacts on the societies and economies that depend on them (Hoffmann et al. 2010).

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Figure 1: Eroded landscape in Andalusia (Spain). 

The legacy of these impacts exerts strong influence over modern and future ecosystem functions. In many agricultural ecosystems, natural processes no longer primarily control soil erosion and deposition, and the greatly accelerated sediment flux is a key marker of the Anthropocene (Syvitski & Kettner, 2011). 

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Figure 2: Terraced loess landscape near Lanzhou (China).

The vulnerability of soils to human-induced erosion is highly variable in space and time; dependent on climate, geology, the nature and duration of land use, and topography. Despite our knowledge of the mechanistic relationships between soil erodibility, land-use and climate, the global heterogeneity of land use history and the natural variability that masks land use effects means that the global patterns of long-term soil erosion and fluvial sediment flux and storage remain poorly understood.


Overall aims

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Figure 3: Terraced loess landscape in Xifeng (China).

The GloSS working group built on the sediment budgets studies on human impacted river systems derived from the former PAGES Focus 4 working group, LUCIFS (Land Use and Climate Impact on Fluvial Systems), to address this gap and provide a global paleo-perspective on the sustainable use of soils, sediments and river systems.

GloSS analyzed the global pattern of anthropogenic soil erosion, and subsequent transfer and storage of sediment along the sediment routing system to the coastal zone. It aimed to determine the sensitivity of soil resources and sediment routing systems to varying land use types during the period of agriculture, under contrasting climate regimes and socio-ecological settings. To achieve this objective GloSS integrated the scientific domains of geomorphology, palaeoecology, archaeology and history.

The GloSS mailing list is still active here.

Questions can be sent to a member of the Steering Group.



Hoffmann T, Thorndycraft VR, Brown AG, Coulthard T, Damnati B, Kale VS, Middelkoop H, Notebaert B & Walling DE (2010) Human impact on fluvial regimes and sediment flux during the Holocene: Review and future research agenda, Global and Planetary Change 72: 87-98

Montgomery DR (2007) Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability, PNAS 104(33): 13268–13272

Syvistki JP & Kettner AJ (2011) Sediment flux and the Anthropocene,  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369: 957-975