The Environmental Zones of Europe are derived from the Environmental Stratification of Europe (see Metzger et al 2005 and Jongman et al 2005). The stratification is based on climate data, data on the ocean influence and geographical position (northing). Soil data are not distinctive at the level of Europe, as the soil classification systems differ for each country. And they are not continuous but qualitative (class-based) data.
Eighty four strata have been classified and these are summarised into thirteen major zones. This aggregation into Environmental Zones (EnZs) facilitates communication. The EnZ have a close relationship to the Biogeographical zones of Europe, but they are not completely the same as the latter have been made by expert judgement and the Environmental Zones are based on statistical procedures. Consistent naming is important to emphasise the statistical approach and prevent false assumptions. The EnZs have, therefore, been ordered by the mean value of the first principal component, which expresses the north-south environmental gradient across Europe.
The zones that have been derived are:
- Alpine North: Scandinavian mountains; these have been named Alpine north, because they show environmental conditions as the Alps on a higher latitude, but in lower mountains.
- Alpine South: the high mountains of central and southern Europe that show the environmental conditions of high mountains. Unlike the Biogeographical zonation of Europe as presented by the EEA here also small Alpine patches are found in mountain areas outside the Alps Pyrenees and Carpathians.
- Atlantic Central is the area with moderate climate where the average winter temperature does not go far below 0°C and the average summer temperatures are relatively low.
- Atlantic North: is the area under influence of the Atlantic ocean and the North sea, humid with rather low temperatures in summer and winter, but not extremely cold.
- Boreal: is the environmental zone covering the lowlands of Scandinavia, mainly characterised by Conifer forests.
- Continental: is the part of Europe with an environment of warm summers and rather cold winters and where Beech is a dominant tree species
- Lusitenean: is the southern Atlantic area from western France to Lisbon. Here the summer temperatures are rather high and there are some dry months occur, winters are mild and humid. It is the region of the southern European heathlands and the Pyrenean oak.
- Mediterranean Mountains: these mountains are influenced by both the Mediterranean zone they are situated in, nbut still they show an influence of mountain climate. This is the area where Mediterranean Beech forests are found
- Mediterrenean North: the Mediteranean northern represents the major part of the Mediterranean climate zone with Holm oak, Cork Oak many fruit plantations and Olive groves.
- Mediterrenean South: this zone represents the extreme Mediterranean climate that is shared with northern Africa, short precipitation periods and long hot, dry summers.
- Nemoral: the zone covering the southern part of Scandinavia, the Baltic states and Belarus. It is the environmental zone characterised by mixtures of Taiga forest and Deciduous broadleaved forests.
- Pannonian-Pontic: this is the most steppic part of Europe, with cold winters and dry hot summers. Most precipitation falls in spring . Obne of the characteristic plant species is Stipa ssp.
- Anatolian: represents the steppes of Turkey, a Mediterranean steppic environment. It is not included in the PAN database as there is no representation from Turkey yet.
The more environmental information that is available for a continent such as Europe, the greater the potential for divisions, and the more complex the continent may appear. It is necessary to develop standardised methods of structuring such complex environmental data and to synthesise this data in order to develop a hierarchical framework for the European environment, which will permit aggregation from field observations into a European context. On a continental scale of spatial research, e.g. biodiversity monitoring, data comparisons, and scenario building for the European Union (EU), a stratification of land into more or less homogeneous regions provides a valuable framework.
At a global or continental scale ecological patterns are mainly driven by climate. When zooming in to more local scales, geology, hydrology, soil, and vegetation become important. This functional, scale-dependant hierarchy in ecosystem components has long been recognised, and many multi-scale ecosystem classifications are based on this hierarchy. Taking into account this hierarchy, an environmental stratification on a European scale should be mainly determined by climate and geomorphology since soil properties cause regional environmental patterns that are not easily included in a continental statistical stratification. In mountainous regions steep environmental gradients occur over short distances.