Innovation in understanding soils: New Soil Spectral Calibration Library and Estimation Service Launched

Share on: 22 Apr 2020

Today marks the launch of the Soil Spectroscopy programme of the Global Soil Laboratory Network (GLOSOLAN) of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP), which is based at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

ISRIC is one of the founding members of the programme. We strongly believe in open and easy to use (soil) data, standards for soil measurements and data exchange, capacity building for soil data producers and users. As soil spectroscopy generates a relatively new type of data, new tools need to be developed for easy and reliable data analysis and exchange to derive relevant soil information to address a range of societal challenges.

For the first time since the discovery of this technology, institutions and experts from all around the world will join efforts to develop a Global mid-infrared (MIR) Soil Spectral Calibration Library and Estimation Service supported by universal standards on soil spectroscopy. The online library and service will help countries improve agricultural productivity and reverse land degradation through a better understanding of soil condition. Because it will provide a rapid measure of soil condition it is a major advance in supporting better soil management for improved food security and environmental management.

Soil spectroscopy uses the interaction of infrared electromagnetic radiation with soils to estimate soil properties such as the levels of acidity, organic carbon, nitrogen and water retention. The current spectral library contains high-quality spectral and measured data for over 80,000 soil samples and will continue to grow as participant countries submit samples for spectral and conventional analysis.

Today’s launch comes after extensive collaborative efforts led by GSP-FAO that facilitated organized science among stakeholders worldwide. A standardized MIR spectral library with matching conventional soil property data, all measured in one gold standard laboratory, will provide more accurate estimates of soil properties and will be freely available to laboratories around the world. In addition, the library will soon support a free and easy-to-use soil property estimation service. This allows labs that use the universal standards to get high quality soil property estimations based on spectra measured in their own lab. The standardized library can also be used for benchmarking spectral and wet chemistry measurements.

Soil spectroscopy has enormous potential for soil mapping, monitoring and assessment because it is fast, cost-effective, non-destructive, highly repeatable, and acceptably accurate. It can benefit countries regardless of whether they have limited or great laboratory resources. The library will improve evidence-based decision-making towards sustainable land management, sustainable intensification of agriculture, land degradation neutrality, food security and nutrition, and climate adaptation and mitigation.

GLOSOLAN will also help countries and labs to build skills in soil spectroscopy, including soil sample selection, soil preparation, spectral measurement and quality assurance of the data analysis. The data infrastructure and service will be facilitated by GLOSIS, the Global Soil Information System that is currently being built by the GSP, its partners and Soil Data Facility (SDF), currently hosted at ISRIC.

The founding members of the Soil Spectroscopy Programme include GSP-FAO, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), ISRIC World Soil Information, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Woods Hole Research Center, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Sydney, and Innovative Solutions for Decision Agriculture (iSDA). Soil spectroscopy experts around the world are joining the GLOSOLAN working group; anyone wishing to contribute is invited to join!

Presently, GLOSOLAN comprises of more than 400 labs worldwide. It aims to harmonize soil analysis methods and data so that soil information is comparable and interpretable across laboratories, countries and regions. Established in 2017 in the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, GLOSOLAN also facilitates networking and capacity development through cooperation and information sharing between soil laboratories with different levels of experience.

A webstory on this initiative and its relevance is available at: