Environmental Spectroscopy Laboratory

The ESL has over 40 years of expertise in the use of field and laboratory spectroscopy for mineral, organic complex, soil and soil organic matter, sediment, waste and water analysis.

The Environmental Spectroscopy Laboratory (ESL) has over 40 years of expertise in the use of field and laboratory spectroscopy for mineral, organic complex, soil and soil organic matter, sediment, waste and water analysis, including routine and research applications into fertility, contamination and mining studies.

We have recently expanded our capabilities by the acquisition of new instrumentation based on handheld mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy, laser induced fluorescence (LIF) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).

Environmental spectroscopy research areas

Our current research interests at the ESL can be divided in four main areas:

  • Soil contamination: evaluation and determination of contamination chemistry, risk assessment and soil remediation for environmental management. We have an extensive list of contaminants and contaminated soils which have been studied using spectroscopy: acid sulphate soils, metal partitioning (Kd), pesticide sorption, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH). The ESL has patented a novel method in Australia and United States for the detection of TPH using a MIR handheld spectrometer, currently being commercialised by Ziltek Pty Ltd as REMSCAN.
  • Agricultural soils: the prediction of soil properties, the understanding of soil mechanisms of interest for soil carbon, particle size distribution, soil chemistry, fertility, water management, land use and pollution prevention and the characterisation of soil organic matter pools including dissolved organic matter.
  • Sediments: this is a relatively new research line which uses spectroscopic methods for assessing the susceptibility of sediments to contamination.
  • Mining soils: contamination assessment and remediation (e.g. PAH and TPH), susceptibility to contamination (e.g. acid neutralizing capacity, particle size) and mineral exploration.

Capabilities in soil spectroscopy

Soil spectroscopy is a cost-effective technique based on molecular chemistry that can be used to predict a wide range of biological, chemical and physical properties in environmental media (minerals, plants, sediments, soils, wastes, waters) quickly and easily.

We have access to a broad range of instruments, data and computer models. In addition, we can assess the environmental composition of the media through examination of the spectra in order to understand the mechanisms behind the predicted properties, retention processes (e.g. in remediation studies) and changes in the composition of soil organic matter and organic materials.

The capabilities of the spectroscopy technique and the ESL team allow the technique to be used in the following areas:

  • Advice (consulting) on novel or alternative infrared sampling methodologies (attenuated total reflectance – ATR –, photo-acoustic spectroscopy, – PAS –), infrared spectrometers, software selection, set-up and implementation of infrared facilities in client laboratories.
  • Environmental assessment and monitoring
  • Experimental design and targeted sample selection
  • On site applications: the ESL is currently evaluating the robustness and performance of handheld spectrometers for the rapid on-site investigation of soil properties, nutrients, contaminants and their behaviour. This offers the possibility of rapid in-field screening of soils, rapidly shortening the time for investigations, identifying and managing problems in the field.
  • Quality check of analytical laboratory data: we can evaluate the accuracy of data analysis produced by laboratories by inspecting the spectra and using our multivariate models
  • Precision agriculture: provide high density soil data
  • Research support: the capabilities offered by the ESL provide research support to other groups within and outside CSIRO. This has resulted in widespread cooperation agreements with research groups within CSIRO Land and Water and also with universities, governmental agencies, companies, etc.
  • Risk assessment and remediation assistance
  • Soil composition assessment: we can visually interpret variation in soils from peaks in their spectra without input from any laboratory data. From these peaks, we can broadly attribute soil type, major mineralogy and organic matter content. Site-specific maps can also be constructed using the relative variation of predicted soil properties mapped against the sample’s location.
  • Soil surveys
  • Training.

Clients and partners

The ESL provides research support to groups within and outside CSIRO, and is available to assist and collaborate with industry, government, research institutes and universities.

Apart from CSIRO groups and universities, some of our clients and partners include: Grain Research and Development Corporation, U.S. Geological Survey, EuroGeoSurveys Geochemistry Expert Group, South Australia Grain Industry Trust Fund, International Atomic Agency.

Use this service

The ESL is based within the CSIRO Land and Water Analytical Service Unit, Adelaide.

For more information contact:

Prof Mike McLaughlin

CSIRO Fellow · Land and Water

  • Phone:
    • +61 8 8303 8433
    • +61 409 693 906 (Mobile)

Waite Campus

Waite Road,

Urrbrae SA 5064



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