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Berlin Environmental Atlas

01.02 Impervious Soil Coverage (Sealing of Soil Surface) (Edition 2007)

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Data on impervious soil coverage are regularly used in the offices of the Berlin administration responsible for environmental protection and for urban and landscape planning. One main area of application is the use and processing in various models, such as urban climate and water balance, or in various evaluation methods, such as soil protection. But the documentation of the condition of the impairment of nature and the landscape due to impervious soil coverage is also of great significance. Finally, policy-makers increasingly require data on impervious coverage in high time resolution, in order to monitor and measure the success of environmental or urban-planning strategies.


The impervious coverage of natural soils has a number of negative effects on the ecosystem and on the human habitat. Impervious coverage means the paving of the soil with non-porous materials. The categories of impervious areas are: built-up impervious areas, i.e., buildings of all kinds; and non-built-up impervious areas, i.e., roads, parking lots, paved walkways, etc.
In addition to building complexes and surfaces completely imperviously paved with asphalt or concrete, more porous paving types are also considered impervious, although these often have very different ecological qualities. Such coverings as honeycomb brick or paving stones with wide seams still permit reduced plant growth, are partially permeable to water, and provide for a considerably more favorable microclimate.

The existing types of pavement were grouped into four pavement classes, with different effects on the ecosystem (cf. Tab. 1).

Tab. 1: Overview of impervious pavement classes
Pavement Class Estimated effects on ecosystem Type of pavement
1 extreme Asphalt, concrete, paving stones with joint sealer or concrete substructure, synthetic surface materials
2 high Artificial stone and plates (edge length > 8 cm), concrete-stone composites, clinker, medium and large-sized paving stones
3 medium Small-stone and mosaic paving (edge length < 8 cm)
4 low Grass trellis stones, water-bound pavement (i.e. ash, gravel or tamped ground), gravel lawn
Tab. 1: Overview of impervious pavement classes

[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

[Pictures: Surface Sealing Class 1, Surface Sealing Class 2, Surface Sealing Class 3, Surface Sealing Class 4.]

The Effects of Impervious Coverage on the Natural Balance

The effects of impervious coverage are felt primarily in cities and metropolitan areas, where a high proportion of the total area is impervious.

Among the various effects on the ecosystem is first of all the fact the impervious coverage contributes to the development of a specific urban climate. The air is heated by the high heat-storage capacity of buildings and asphalt streets. Especially in summertime, nighttime cooling is reduced (cf. Fig. 1).

Figure 1
Fig. 1: Temperature curves over various surfaces (Kessler 1971 in: Mählenhoff 1989)

At the same time, the relative atmospheric humidity too is reduced, since vegetation-covered areas and the evaporation they generate is lacking. This can lead to the occurrence of extreme values which can impair human well-being considerably. In this context, pervious areas, such as parks, play a major role. Parks of even one hectare in size or more have a demonstrably positive climatic effects on human well-being. Vegetation-covered areas also have an effect on the dust and pollutant contents of the air, since, with their large leaf surfaces, they are able to bind dust particles and other air pollutants.
The effects of impervious coverage on the Berlin urban climate are described in detail in various maps of the chapter 04 Climate.

Impervious coverage of the soil also causes profound changes in the water balance, due to the loss of evaporation and seepage surfaces for precipitation. The rainwater runoff from impervious areas, heavily polluted by tire abrasion, dust, dog excrement, etc., is passed by via the sewage system either directly into the tributaries or into sewage-treatment plants (cf. Map 02.09 Management of Rain and Waste Water).

Impervious coverage and condensation moreover strongly disturb the functions of the soil. The blockage of the water and oxygen supply destroys most soil organisms. Since no more water can seep away, the pollutants introduced via the air and precipitation are no longer retained in the soil, and are washed into the surface waters.
The complete impervious coverage of the soil causes the complete loss of all flora and fauna, but even partial impervious coverage always means habitat loss. Biotopes are fragmented or isolated, while sensitive species are crowded out in favor of more adaptable species.
In addition to the above-described consequences for the ecosystem, the degree of impervious coverage in urban areas also has an immediate effect on the human habitat. A high degree of impervious coverage is usually associated with a disparity of open space per capita. Long rows of buildings, frequently interrupted only by asphalt or concrete surfaces, can have a depressing, monotonous effect on residents. Such factors of nature as the change of the seasons can no longer be experienced in the immediate residential environment. Increased dependence on nearby recreation areas at the outskirts of a city on the other hand generates traffic, which also has a negative effect on the environment.

Impervious Coverage and Land Consumption in Germany

Germany, impervious areas account for approx. 6 % of the total area (Gunreben et al. 2007, not counting Saxony-Anhalt; 6.4 % UBA 2007). Given a total area of 35.7 million hectares, (Baratta 2003) this corresponds to an impervious area of 2.14 million hectares.

In the political debate, the environmental indicator "land consumption" is primarily cited, and has also found its way into the national sustainability strategy.
There, since 2002, the goal of reducing land consumption to 30 hectares per day by 2020 has been formulated. Daily land-consumption demand in Germany is 115 hectares (2004) (Umweltbundesamt 2008). This figure has been reduced in recent years due to the economic situation, the drop in new road building, and the impervious coverage regulations for new buildings (in 2000, it was 129 hectares/day); however, for the last five years, it has been stagnating.

Land consumption is calculated from the daily increase in built-up and traffic areas. This is not equal to the impervious area, since it also includes areas which are only slightly impervious, such as gardens in residential areas or green strips on roads, etc. (Gunreben et al. 2007).
The reduction of land consumption, which is a goal of the Sustainability Strategy, is to be achieved by space-reduced construction of buildings, densification of urban areas, concentration of infrastructure, provision of compensation areas, and the removal of impervious surfaces no longer used (space recycling). With the increase of the quality of the living environment in residential areas, concentrated housing in the city is to be reestablished as an alternative to the "home in the green suburbs" once again. (Die Bundesregierung 2007). Germany's states and municipalities are to realize these targets in the context of their spatial and construction planning.

Legally mandatory stipulations are also being used to reduce impervious coverage. The impervious-coverage removal requirement under § 5 of the Federal Soil Protection Law (BBodSchG) of 1998 is designed to provide compensation for land consumption, by causing areas no longer used to be made pervious again, and thus regain their natural soil functions under § 2 Sect. 2 BBodSchG. The law makes allowance for reasonable expense and burden (Oerder 1999, p. 90 et seq:)

A further possible instrument for reducing impervious coverage is financial incentives at the individual level. For example, Berlin has since January 1, 2000, invoiced the charge for precipitate-water sewage separately. The introduction of this so-called fee-splitting is based on a ruling by the Federal Administrative Court (verdict of June 12, 1972) and the Superior Administrative Court of Lüneburg (verdicts of June 14, 1968 and of April 10, 1980). These rulings stated that in municipalities in which the cost of precipitate-water sewage disposal accounts for more than 15% of the total costs of sewage disposal, the fees must be invoiced separately, so that the fee for precipitate-water sewage disposal is no longer linked proportionally to the general sewage fee, but is rather charged according to the impervious share of the property from which waste water is fed into the sewage system (BWB 1998). Therefore owners have since 2000 endeavored to keep the impervious area of their property as low as possible, in order to save sewage fees. Since the new Precipitate-Water Exemption Ordinance of August 2001 came into effect (the Ordinance on Exemption from Requirement for Permission for Harmless Percolation of Precipitate Water - NWFreiV vom 24. August 2001), it is possible to obtain proportionate or full exemption from the precipitate-water sewage disposal fee (SenStadt 2001) via measures for relieving the rain water sewage system via-water percolation on one's own property, without permission.

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