Billabong gamma map.

A new facility will allow CSIRO to focus its current soil research.

Soil and Landscape Grid of Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network

In 2011, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) announced funding for new science facilities and extensions to existing facilities. Amongst those led by CSIRO is a new soil science facility.

  • 21 November 2011

This facility will allow CSIRO to focus its current soil research and partnerships on data and information infrastructure for sustainability, ecosystem and resource management.


The soil is a fundamental player in biochemical cycles – and notably underpins water, carbon, energy and nutrient cycles in ecosystems; and the soil itself is a complex and vital ecosystem. Information about soil is essential in understanding and managing ecosystems – and in the science needed.

The right soil information, in the right form and easily available can therefore be seen as essential scientific infrastructure. The new TERN soils facility will build this infrastructure providing consistent, comprehensive and available soil information. The information will be integrated into earth observation system models including climate models and provide a new soil and landscape grid for Australia.

It will use a range of developing technologies and computer modelling processes. Many areas remain poorly mapped and while this facility will not address the need for field data collection or digital soil mapping; it will, optimise the use of current and future data.

A new Soils and Landscape Grid of Australia

CSIRO, state and territory agencies and Sydney University, a world leader in digital soil mapping, are collaborating to build a new fine-scale network of key soil properties, a new form of soil map for Australia. The core part of this new map will feed into international projects. The only existing soil map of the whole Australian continent was published in the 1960s – a new approach is needed for the 21st Century.

Project goals

This project will build a key form of national information infrastructure and, in the process, encourage the development and application of new approaches to soil information around the country. It will also contribute to similar projects in Indonesia, PNG and the Pacific as part of

The project will produce a map for Australia that:

  • is a fine, consistent and comprehensive grid of around 100 metres – a fine network of useful soil information
  • maps the soil functions which drive ecosystems
  • builds new landscape models which define the key landforms of the country
  • is available onā€line
  • satisfies the information and research infrastructure needs of ecosystem scientists, land managers and government agencies
  • contributes to national and international collaboration in soils research such as the Global Soil Map project.

Planned research activities

  1. A national research team is being formed, led by CSIRO, with membership from state and territory agencies, the University of Sydney and Geoscience Australia.
  2. State and territory government agencies will provide soil mapping and soil data to assist the national team to develop soil property prediction models and start the mapping process.
  3. Refine the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) Digital Elevation Model collected by NASA's shuttle program, gamma radiometrics and other remotely sensed data to develop new ways to understand the landscape.
  4. Components of the new map - estimates of:
    1. soil chemical and physical properties that describe / reflect ecosystem processes such as soil carbon, clay content and total phosphorus
    2. depth relationships of these soil functions, for example where does carbon peak in the soil; how much water can be held
    3. the nature of the landforms in which the soil exists and across which water, sediment and nutrients move
  5. Develop and deploy methods to infer a broader range of soil functions from the core data set.
  6. Estimate and display the certainty of the mapping.

Project partners

  • University of Sydney, Australia
  • Geoscience Australia
  • DPI Victoria
  • DERM Queensland
  • DPIW Tasmania
  • DECCW New South Wales
  • DENR South Australia
  • DNREA Northern Territory
  • Agric Western Australia.

About TERN

TERN was established in July 2009 to provide a national collaborative infrastructure and framework to assist in collection and management of scientific data to meet the needs of the terrestrial ecosystem research community.

The network also promotes terrestrial ecosystems science interactions and planning in Australia. The latest round of funding is due to a $25.63M grant from the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) Education Investment Fund (EIF) which is part of the Australian Government’s Super Science Initiative.

CSIRO has a long involvement with TERN (under its last round of funding: NCRIS TERN) including the facilities of AusCover and OzFlux and the newly created Australian Coastal Ecosystems Facility (ACEF).

TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.

Learn more about the research by the Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) logo.