WG Urban Soils

WG Urban Soils


Cities need their soils

Urban soils is the collective term for soils of urban, commercial, industrial, mining and military areas.

Multi-talented urban soils. Urban soils are more than just building land and gaps between buildings and streets. In fact, they fulfil important functions for us. Urban soils are the basis of life for plants in parks, gardens and open spaces. Green spaces are important for leisure and recreation. Young urban soils in particular can also be niches for rare plants and animals that are worth protecting. The diversity of revitalised soils makes cities liveable and individual. Soils and plants filter dust from the air and thus protect our health. In addition, urban soils cool the summer heat between the urban canyons and allow us to sleep well at night. Urban soils can save costs and prevent damage. For example, water that seeps into the ground does not cause flooding and does not have to be channelled through the expensive sewage system. At the same time, soils filter pollutants from the water and thus keep our groundwater clean. Some urban soils are very efficient and fulfil several functions very well. However, even the less efficient ones often have very special properties that are worth protecting. Nevertheless, all soils are sensitive and should be regarded as the thin skin of the earth. Sometimes - but most frequently in cities - soils were heavily polluted in the past so that they have to be remediated today.

Urban soils - witnesses to a city's history. An urban soil is like a history book. In fact, every historical period leaves its mark on the soil. For example, urban soils can contain 1000-year-old building rubble or the remains of medieval town fires. Debris from the world wars is very often found in Germany's urban soils. Sometimes they simply contain ashes from the time when coal was still being burnt everywhere. Organic waste has increased the amount of humus in urban soils. But local business, mining and industry have also left their mark on the soil. However, many urban soils consist of backfilled material from natural soils. History of the working group “Urban Soils” The historical development of urban soil science with reference to the German working group “Urban Soils” and the international working group “SUITMA” is compactly presented within the article “Soil science within German cities” by Burghardt et al. (2022, Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/jpln.202200211).


The working group „Urban Soils“ deals with the following topics and objectives:

-          Further development of methods for determining the properties of urban soils (e.g. mapping, regionalisation)

-          Development of guidelines and assessment of the functions of urban soils with reference to planning applications 

-          Assessment of the risk potential of urban soils for humans, cultivated plants, water and air

-          Exchange of expertise between universities, scientific institutes, local authorities, state offices, planning and  engineering enterprises and professional associations

-          Public relations work regarding the topic of urban soils

Workshop "Anthropogene Bildungen" in Berlin

Workshop "Artefacts" in Berlin

Friday, 10.03.2023, 9:00 - 13:00, Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The 6th, completely revised edition of the German Guidelines for Soil Description (KA 6) introduces a systematic, hierarchically structured key list for "artefacts". At the workshop initiated by the working group, 14 participants from Berlin/Brandenburg, Göttingen, Aachen and Hamburg were able to familiarise themselves with the structure and application of this key list by means of practical exercises to characterise "artefacts" typically found in urban soils in Germany.

Photo 1: Participants of the Workshop „Artefacts” in Berlin (L. Makowsky)

Photo 2: Practical exercise to describe and determine typical "artefacts" found in urban soils (L. Makowsky)


All members of the German Soil Science Society, who are interested in the topic of urban soils, whether from local authorities, private enterprises, state offices or scientific institutions, are cordially invited to participate. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Dr. Lutz Makowsky

Sachverständiger für Bodenschutz und Altlasten

Sachgebiet 2 (Gefährdungsabschätzung für den Wirkungspfad Boden-Gewässer)


Milser Straße 37, 33729 Bielefeld

Fon: +49 (0)521/97710-18



Deputy chair:

Tina Thrum

Dezernentin für Bodengeologie

Geologischer Dienst Brandenburg

Landesamt für Bergbau, Geologie und Rohstoffe

Inselstraße 26, 03046 Cottbus

Fon: +49 (0)355/48640-184


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