Western Europe Demonstration


France - SU (Sorbonne University, ex. P. and M. Curie University, Paris)  

  • Josette Garnier (coordinator)
  • Gilles Billen
  • Vincent Thieu

Spain - UPM (Technical University of Madrid)

  • Alberto Sanz-Cobeña (coordinator)
  • Luis Lassaletta
  • Antonio Vallejo García
  • María Arróniz Crespo

Spain - CIEMAT (Research Center for Energy, Env. & Techn.)

  • Rocio Alonso
  • Victoria Bermejo

Portugal - Universidade de Lisboa

  • Cláudia Cordovil
  • Maria do Rosário da Conceição Cameira

Domain of the Demo

Figure 1. The Western EU Atlantic Façade covers a surface area of about 1 million km², includes 17 major rivers, and takes into account river watersheds from > 300 km². Experimental studies focus on the Seine and Tagus for comparing Temperate and Mediterranean Regions.


There is an urgent need to better understand how the organization not only of agricultural activity but of the whole agro-food system affects the functioning of the environmental system at small and large scales, and across a large range of bio-climatic regions of the world, taking into account the diversity of the different agro-food systems (Mueller et al 2012, Nature), and the need to safeguard them as far as they are able to meet the local human needs (Fader et al 2013, Environ. Res. Lett. 8 014046; MacDonald 2013, Environ. Res. Lett. 021002).

The challenge is therefore to carry out in parallel local studies of the agricultural systems, taking into account the specificities of pedo-climatic conditions (e.g. in Europe temperate vs. Mediterranean systems), and at the same time develop a summarizing, unifying and comparative view of how the whole system is working.

Role in Towards INMS

Existing research efforts are supporting the development of a regional demonstration in West Europe. 

The aims consist of defining and measuring innovative indicators of agronomical and environmental performances of cropping systems, based on field observations, inquiries and experimental work conducted at the scale of instrumented watersheds located respectively in a gradient of temperate to Mediterranean pedoclimatic regions in the European Atlantic Façade. The tool “GRAFS” (Generalised Representation of the Agrofood Systems) documents agricultural activity and calculates nutrient surface soil balances, in terms of surpluses. GRAFS is coupled to the model of biogeochemical functioning of drainage networks (Riverstrahler), though the leached surpluses and urban wastewater release. This model chain can be applied at a variety of scales, depending on the availability of data of (i) agricultural statistics (administrative territories such as department of provinces, regions, countries) and (ii) river surveys (morphology, hydrology, water quality, point sources…).

The approach for documenting nitrogen cascade from agricultural activity is two-fold:  

  • On the one hand it consists of field measurements conducted at the scale of two experimental watersheds (about 100-360 km²) respectively located in temperate and Mediterranean climate zones. The data acquired at that scale then feeds the analysis of the water-agro-food system of regional watersheds in Europe, along the temperate to Mediterranean climatic gradient, from the Rhine to the Guadalquivir.
  • On the other hand, the approach is utilizing the results of several projects (e.g., the EU NitroPortugal project; a five years “Ramón y Cajal” Grant for young confirmed researchers in Spain and the regional Spanish project Agrisost; a three years Ph-D grant from the Ministry of Research in France and the long term PIREN-Seine programme). These projects aim at leading to the first National Nitrogen Assessments. The nitrogen issue is to be viewed in a Southern Mediterranean European context in comparison with a temperate one.

Whilst these results related to agricultural activity are a significant start to a regional demonstration site, due to the nature of the core projects and partners involved in the work, they are related to the water systems in a land-to-sea continuums of the river basins of the selected domain. The consideration in the model of tropospheric ozone effects on crop nitrogen and water use efficiency in Mediterranean areas is being explored. In the context of the demonstration and as the INMS project progresses we have mobilised  stakeholders (Water Agency, farmers, farmers representatives, managers and policy makers) to identify opportunities or barriers for improved nutrient (N, P, Si) management in a region where the impact of too much N currently results in inland water contamination and coastal eutrophication.


  • This demonstration is characterising the agronomic and environmental performances of cropping systems using several indicators and integrative approaches at the scale of the two contrasted experimental catchments, with the aim of upscaling the approach to Western EU Atlantic domain. 
  • Two contrasted agricultural scenarios have been co-constructed, one stating a further openness of the agri-food system (intensification and specialization, O/S), another describing increased autonomy of farmers (with no chemical use of mineral fertilisers, and pesticides), a reconnection of livestock and crop farming, and a demitarian diet (A/R/D), (Billen et al 2018, Science of the Total Environment 637–638, 695–705). New scenarios are in elaboration for better linking food consumption and production. 
  • The impact of these scenarios on nutrient fluxes and dynamics are being estimated using the modelling tools (GRAFS-Riverstrahler, Garnier et al 2016, Environmental Science & Policy 63, 76–90; Desmit et al 2018, Science of the Total Environment 635,1444–1466) and MANNER, Chamber et al 1999, Soil Use and Management 15, 137-143) leading to a quantitative evaluation of the environmental responses, e.g., changes in N water concentrations, NOx (NO2, NO), N2O, NH3 volatilisation…

Figure 2. Nitrogen surplus in the France, Spain and Portugal for the current situation and for the A/R/D scenario.