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We maintain the Australian National Soil Archive, which provides facilities and protocols for conserving the long-term, scientific value of soil specimens and associated soil data.

The Australian National Soil Archive. ©  CSIRO, Stuart Walmsley

The archive is a valuable resource for a range of soil studies, including carbon assessments, fertiliser and erosion studies and to study changes in soil condition over time.

Archived soil material and data is searchable and publicly accessible with protocols in place which outline standards and processes for sample submission and use. With permission, users can access a large amount of existing soil data or re-analyse soil specimens for their own needs. New analysis results are continually added to the archive database.

The oldest specimens in the archive date back to 1924 before widespread artificial fertiliser and herbicide application started, providing a useful baseline of soil properties. Most of the sites from which specimens have been collected are in agricultural regions, but in recent years more sites from non-agricultural regions have been uploaded.

A valuable resource for research

Since the Australian National Soil Archive was established in 2003, over 40,000 archived soil specimens have been used for further studies.

Fieldwork to study soil properties can be labour intensive and expensive. Providing archived soil specimens with soil chemistry and profile descriptions enables researcher to re-analyse soils more cost-effectively. Sometimes this means using new methods, such as infra-red spectroscopy.

Archived soil material and data is searchable and publicly accessible with protocols in place which outline standards and processes for sample submission and use.

The Australian National Soil Archive supports many diverse research projects, including:

  • Mapping soil carbon stocks across Australia using new infrared scanning technology (based on 43,000 specimens)
  • Studying soil property changes over time by re-analysis of South Australian acid sulfate soils (using specimens from the 1920s)
  • Examining the potential of soil analysis as a forensic method (by the Australian Federal Police)
  • Rapid assessment of the distribution of soils with toxic levels of boron (a CSIRO study)
  • Evaluation of the utility of Pb isotopes as tracers by studying Australian dust sources to the Pacific Ocean
  • Calibrating new soil property measuring instruments.

Take a tour

[Music plays and text appears: National Soil Archive]

[Image changes to show an outside shot of the CSIRO Australian National Soil Archive building]

Peter Wilson: I’m Peter Wilson and I’m the manager of the Australian National Soil Archive here at CSIRO.

[Image changes to show Peter Wilson]

The archive holds over 70,000 soil samples from across Australia.

[Image changes to show Peter opening an archive drawer and removing a jarred sample]

These samples have been collected by CSIRO research and all of the Australian State and Territory Soil Agencies. These samples represent all of the landscapes across Australia be some from farmland and some from the arid interior.

[Image changes back to Peter]

Our earliest samples come from 1924; they were done before modern agriculture in Australia and before widespread use of fertilisers and before atomic testing, so they’re really special little time capsules of the way the soil was before we’ve started to have impact on it.

[Image changes to show a woman sorting collected samples into jars]

The samples have now been used to help map the soil carbon stocks across Australia using new infrared scanning technology. They’ve also been reanalysed using new techniques to look at soil property change over time. Even the Federal Police have used them for some forensic investigations.

[Image changes back to Peter]

CSIRO has had the National Soil Archive for about ten years or so.

[Image changes to show shelves of jarred soil samples]

We’ve filled up the old archive and we’ve just built a new facility, so this new one is all modern labs and modern storage facilities and we can hold up to 124,000 samples in the new archive.

[Image changes to show Peter at the archive drawers and then changes back to Peter]

The archive samples have been analysed at different times and all of those results are loaded into our National Soil Database.

[Image changes to show a woman seated in front of a computer reviewing information]

This data is now available through the Australian Soil Resource Information System online and we also make it available through CSIRO’s SoilMapp for iPad.

[Image changes back to Peter]

Look, soil really is the complex natural medium that supports all life on our planet. Without soil we don’t have life, so it cycles our nutrients, our water, all of our biology and biodiversity. It’s obviously important to food, we grow all of our agricultural crops in soils, so managing those soils and using them sustainably is very important to the future generations.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here]

Archive manager Peter Wilson explains why soil "time capsules" dating back to 1924 are so important to our future.

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Building on the collection

The Australian National Soil Archive collection is steadily growing in the areas of soil data, soil specimens archived and user requests. It provides a well-managed, long-term repository for soil specimens from large national research programs.

New material is added to the collection through CSIRO research projects and submissions from other research and government organisations. Some recent submissions include:

  • 1,200 soil specimens collected from 300 sites as part the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment conducted from 2019-2021
  • 250 specimens from ecological research studies in WA from the 2010s
  • 3,500 specimens from the Torrens Valley study conducted in the early 1970s.

Inside the Australian National Soil Archive at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra. ©  CSIRO, Stuart Walmsley

Use this service

We can provide soil specimens with soil data, soil data only, or information about our facility, policies and processes. The Australian National Soil Archive is available to support research in Australia and overseas.

Contact us for questions about submitting specimens with soil data, soil data only or for using soil data and or specimens.


Australian National Soil Archive

Ms Georgia Reed

Manager of the Australian National Soil Archive (Agriculture & Food)

Ms Linda Karssies

Manager of the Australian National Soil Archive


CSIRO Black Mountain
Building 101, Clunies Ross Street
Black Mountain
ACT 2601

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