Looking up soils on the digital map table

Never before has such detailed soil data been accessible as through the Digital Map Table in the World Soils Museum

Take a look where in India the soil is suitable for growing rice or where in the world the soil is susceptible to erosion. That’s quickly done at the Digital Map Table, which makes it easy to look up the soils and soil characteristics of a particular region.

Surrounded by prepared soil profiles hanging on the wall, this map table has been afforded a prominent place in the new World Soils Museum.

The map table utilizes the SoilGrids1km soil information system. In recent years this system, commissioned by UN food organisation FAO and others, has been developed by ISRIC. Interested parties can use the system to access up-to-date soil information by simply zooming in on an area via touch screen. Visitors can choose to zoom in on the whole of South East Asia, for example, on Indonesia or on Bali. Information can be called up for an area stretching from 1-20 kilometres. Where could one expect to find clayey Vertisols, or the sandy Podzol soils? Where does one find soils that are sufficiently deep and contain enough clay to retain water well? Or where can one expect to find soils with a high organic matter content – key to fertility? And where are soils so acidic that they cannot support grain crops?

As one of the first world soil information systems, SolidGrids1km combines traditional soil maps with maps of soil characteristics such as acidity or organic matter content. The latter are made using advanced spatial statistical calculation models. ‘Our system is probably the most detailed system in the world,’ says ISRIC soil scientist Tom Hengl. ‘It contains 20 to 100 times more data than most other world soil information systems.’

Only the deserts have not been documented – on the map they show up as white. That’s because there are few observations and also because the sands often drift, Hengl explains. The models used to calculate the soil characteristics make use of soil formation factors such as topography, climate and parent material . But because desert soils drift every two years or so, the models are less efficacious.

And once you know where in India the soil is suitable for paddy fields, you may well want to see whether rice is actually grown there. That, too, you can find out using the Digital Map Table, for it also incorporates a vegetation map. It also shows you where the soil profiles on display in the museum come from and the degree of soil degradation predicted for a particular area. This digital map, known as GLASOD, was compiled under ISRIC supervision in 2006 and updated in 2010. In addition the Digital Map Table links to Global Forest Watch, a map tracking the changes in forestation compiled by the World Resource Institute (WRI).