15 December 2022

Australia set to establish a national soil database


Starting from 2023, the new platform promoted by the government agency CSIRO will provide information on essential features such as climate change adaptation, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity

by Matteo Cavallito


Creating a unified system for collecting soil information in Australia. That is the goal of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a federal agency run by the Camberra government and responsible for national scientific research. The project, according to a statement from the agency, is valued at $15 million local (about US$10.3 million) and is designed “at improving the sustainable management of one of the nation’s most precious assets.”

To achieve this, researchers are now working to build a new platform called ANSIS, Australian National Soil Information System. “Using innovative processes and technologies, ANSIS will allow improved sharing of nationally consistent soil data and information through online access for users. This will help Australians to better understand our diverse range of soils and make better decisions about managing our important soil resources.”

The project

Starting next year, this database is a collaboration between government, research organizations and businesses. Once up and running, the system is expected to make accurate and harmonized data available for use by a variety of stakeholders including policy makers, local governments, researchers, farmers and land conservation practitioners across Australia.

In this way, for example, farmers “will be able to compare the condition of your soil with a similar soil type or other soils in your region.” And they will thus be able to assess “the impact of your land management practices or to consider opportunities for change and improvement.”

Decision makers will have access to relevant information “on a range of soil properties relevant to policy priorities including agricultural productivity and demonstrating best practice, food security and clean and secure water resources and marine management.” As well as essential data on “climate change adaptation, current and potential arbon sequestration and biodiversity, ecosystem functions and sustainably managing the environment.”

The importance of data

The ability to organize data in a systematic way remains the most important aspect. To date, the promoters explain, soil data are collected by different methods, by different organizations and at a variety of depths in the ground. All this makes it difficult to access, compare and use information from disparate sources. The issue, by the way, is not limited to Australia. Indeed, land protection requires at every latitude the ability to get in touch with harmonized information in order to plan the best intervention strategies.

“The harmonization of data, methods of analysis, units of measurement and information is essential to provide reliable and comparable information across countries and projects,” Lucrezia Caon, FAO Land and Water Officer, explained recently. But it is also crucial, she added, “to enable the generation of new information systems and support decision-making processes for sustainable land management.”

Australia faces a soil crisis

The ANSIS project could lead the way for new solutions to address problems in the local environment. Australia, for example, is home to some of the driest soils in the world and is facing land degradation. The country’s soils, wrote local network The Conversation, “face a range of threats, including the loss of prime agricultural land, erosion, acidification, salt accumulation, contamination and carbon loss. Climate change also puts pressure on our soils through through droughts, storms, bushfires and floods.”

Last year, the government announced the launch of its National Soils Strategy, a 20-year plan to “prioritises soil health, empowers soil innovation and stewards, and strengthens soil knowledge and capability.”

The ANSIS project is one of the chapters of this strategy. And it aims to produce tangible effects. “Productive, healthy and resilient soil means more economic, environmental and social benefits to Australia,” said Peter Wilson, program director at CSIRO. “Monitoring soil also helps our scientific understanding about how our natural world is changing.”