USA: The latest version of the Web Soil Survey 2.1 (WSS) was recently launched by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS). The web-based program provides anyone with computer access a wealth of soils information including soil maps, properties, and interpretations aimed at helping its visitors with land use decisions. The web site, originally launched in August 2005, continues to be improved and enhanced to meet the demands of its growing customer base of several million hits a year.
The first and most noticed change is the addition of a “Search” feature. This feature allows the user to type in a keyword or phrase, and WSS will return a list of links to the places within the application that provide information containing the keyword or phrase.
Another major addition provides the user the capability to download the raw soil data clipped to the geographic extent of the defined area of interest (AOI). This data can then be used in the user’s local geographic information system (GIS).
In addition, the ability to print soil and interpretive maps on multiple pages has been added. Based on the size and shape of the AOI and the map scale chosen by the user, the WSS application offers the user a choice of page layout configurations and page sizes.
A distance measuring tool has been added. This tool provides the length of individual line segments that the user draws on the map as well as the cumulative length of multiple segments.
On the Soil Map tab the customer can access a pop-up map unit description. In WSS 2.1 the user can now print these individual descriptions. Another enhancement provides more accurate and up-to-date navigational data layers such as streams, roads, and political boundaries to WSS. The availability of high resolution, color background imagery has been expanded.
There has also been additional server space added to the system. This will allow more concurrent users to access the Web Soil Survey, and should improve the performance of the application to individual users.
These are only a sampling of the enhancements included in the latest version of WSS. A large number of minor enhancements have also been added. More enhancements are planned for future releases.
Since its beginning, the Web Soil Survey has attracted a wide array of online visitors from all over the world. During the first few months of its existence, the site averaged about 1000 users per day, but now the site has seen that number increase dramatically to about 4000 per day.
Soil surveys provide critical information for land use decisions, both on the farm and in the city. Whether a developer is looking to build on or purchase land, or a farmer is considering alternative crops, soil survey data is a critical element in the equation that produces profits. This is essential to rural America and the need for producers and ranchers to maximize productivity without harming natural resources.
Making soils information available on the web has been a major achievement for NRCS and with the agency’s ongoing commitment to make the process better and easier for the customer, the important information can find its way into the hands of those making natural resource decisions. NRCS is a science-based USDA federal agency committed to the preservation of the nation’s natural resources through the use of conservation.