Since the establishement of the institute (1964), a primary responsibility of ISRIC has been to create and maintain a world soil reference collection and accompanying analytical information.
The collection comprises over 950 physical representatives of the mapping units of the FAO-UNESCO Soil Map of the World —a unique educational and cultural resource— and its successor the Harmonised World Soil Database (HWSD). The procedure for soil description and collecting field data necessary for classification according to the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB) is described in the FAO Guidelines for Soil Description. Procedures for the collection and preservation of soil monoliths are described in a Technical Paper. Soil analytical data for the collection have been determined using standard methods (PDF).
A selection of soil monoliths is on display in the World Soil Museum, and the whole collection been documented in the ISRIC Soil Information System (ISIS). Over 40 of these profiles have been described in detail in Soil Briefs.
The collection is currently being expanded with some 200 profiles, starting with some 10 new profiles from Russia.