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Digging deep to create national soil database

An interactive soil mapping website driven by advanced GIS is supporting Australia’s land management and future sustainability.

Australia’s 7.69 million square kilometres of land is arguably its most valuable natural asset – particularly when it comes to the nation’s food security. But this vast landscape’s geographical diversity means developing and maintaining detailed, accurate soil information – which is crucial to the effective management of the agribusiness sector – is no easy feat.

Traditionally, soil records have only been available in hard copy and with soil data managed differently by the states and territories, the records were sometimes difficult to locate. To ensure that the nation’s soil data can be properly maintained and accessed, the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP) identified the need for a nationally consistent and publically available land and soil information system.

ACLEP partnered with Esri Australia to overhaul existing disparate information systems to develop an online portal for national soil data management and delivery. Using cutting-edge GIS technology to literally map the geographic elements contained within the data, ACLEP developed the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS) – a publically accessible interactive mapping website.

ASRIS is underpinned by Australia’s first comprehensive nationally consistent soil database which integrates land and soil data from all state and territory databases. CSIRO Land and Water Project Officer David Jacquier said GIS technology provides the public and agribusiness stakeholders with instant access to essential land and soil information.

“By making all the country’s soil data available through one mapping interface, ASRIS presents complex information in an accessible format that transcends a user’s education, language and technical experience,” Jacquier said. “Users select the area they’re interested in learning about, and with a click of their mouse, they can see soil data and information that previously might have taken hours or days to locate.”

“ASRIS mapping tools benefit a multitude of industries and individuals, including government departments, agricultural groups, researchers, developers and the broader community,” Jacquier added. “Streamlining the way these stakeholders access soil data is an enormous step towards our goal of better matching land use with land suitability.”

ASRIS contains seven levels of soil and land data – which can be switched on and off depending on the detail of information required – and provides general descriptions of soil types and landforms as well as more detailed information on properties such soil depth, texture and acidity.

Jacquier said by streamlining access to soil information, ASRIS enhances regional growth and sustainability by improving understanding of soils and ensuring suitability for development. “Soil is a vital part of the equation in any development or agricultural project as it determines to a large extent what the land is suitable for,” Jacquier said.

“Agricultural industries can use ASRIS to make informed management decisions by considering soil related issues such as water holding capacity, erodability or salinity. Developers can also use ASRIS to identify soil types prior to building commencement, potentially avoiding costly problems associated with excavation, swelling clays and unstable land.” “It is information vital to our environmental sustainability – and with GIS technology, this data is now more readily available in a useful, consistent format,” Jacquier added.