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Aware of the increasing pressures on soils and the lack of coordination of research on soil environmental functions, the French Ministry for Ecology set up the program GESSOL (fonctions environnementales du sol – GEStion du patrimoine SOL, i.e soil environmental functions - soil heritage management) as early as 1998. This program aims at providing scientific basis and appropriate tools to decision makers and environmental managers, in order to improve the consideration of multi-functionality of soils and reduce risks of degradation. To date, the program has funded 46 projects. To achieve this, the program gathered a multidisciplinary research community on soil functions. In France, GESSOL is the first and the only research program specifically devoted to an holistic approach of the soil environmental functions.

Calls 1&2logo_gessol
GESSOL launched the first two calls for research proposal in 1999 and 2003 entitled “GESSOL 1 – soil environmental functions - soil heritage management” and “GESSOL 2 - What is the impact of agricultural practices on soil and on water and pollutants transfers towards hydrosystems?” With these two calls, the French Ministry for Ecology funded 22 research projects addressing pressing questions concerning the environmental roles of soils and their sensitivity to degradation (erosion, contamination, compaction, loss of biodiversity, loss of organic matter). For example, the GESSOL projects contributed to the implementation of soil observation systems with the construction of soil quality indicators, the development of soil monitoring methodologies on large spatial scale and the networking of experimental sites. They also produced evaluations and recommendations of environmentally-friendly soil management practices. Based on these results, GESSOL contributed to the discussions preparing the European Strategy for Soil Protection (COM (2006) 231).

See table of the projects of calls 1&2

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Call 3
In 2008, GESSOL has switched from the funding of projects characterizing soil degradation, to the funding of trans-disciplinary projects in order to provide a framework optimization of soil services. The call for proposal “GESSOL 3” was drafted with the input of experts from human and social sciences and thus targeted a wider research community. Three new axes were defined:

-       To observe and evaluate soil functions and soil services

-       To preserve soil heritage and to raise awareness

-       To improve and restore soil functions

All the axes of the call bring together natural sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and humanities. With this call, the French ministry for Ecology and the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management funded 23 additional projects. Eleven projects explicitly involve human and social sciences and 9 projects are coordinated by a researcher of these fields. In these latter projects, actions on soil and their acceptability are evaluated in terms of environmental, economical, legal and sociological terms.

See table of the projects of the call 3

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Governance of the program

The program is administered by a Steering Committee which brings together end-users, decision makers and environmental managers concerned with soils. They define the research priorities in accordance with their perceived needs and concerns. The Scientific Advisory Board is composed of specialists in various disciplines associated with soil. It elaborates calls for proposals based on the priorities established by the Steering Committee and guarantees the scientific excellence of the projects selected for funding and the results produced at the end of each projects. Following an external evaluation of the program in 2007, an action plan was set-up in order to better associate researchers in human and social sciences to GESSOL activities. First, sociologists, jurists and economists were invited to take part in the Scientific Advisory Board. Second, an internal seminar was organized so that different experts in human and social sciences could highlight what their discipline could add to our understanding of the preservation of soil multi-functionality.

See article about the programm

See table of the Steering Committee (in French)

See table of the Advisory Board (in French)

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Game: The hidden life of soils
Every day we walk, run and play on the soil, without regard for the world of tiny organisms that it hosts. But just a teaspoon of soil may contain millions of living organisms belonging to thousands of different species.
This card game was initially designed and published in French under the GESSOL research programme, funded by the French Ministry of Ecology.
See and download the game