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The Archive’s soil specimens are invaluable “time capsules” for assessing temporal changes in soil properties, particularly as new analytical tools become available. 

The Archive's data can be accessed in the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS), where site reports containing available soil morphology and soil chemistry data can be viewed or downloaded.

What does the National Soil Archive do?

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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The CSIRO National Soil Archive:

  • provides facilities and protocols for conserving the long-term scientific value of soil specimens and associated soil data
  • makes archived specimens and their data available for public research, both now and into the future.

The Archive's core activities are the ongoing storage, archiving and maintenance of soil specimens and their associated field records, along with managing the associated NatSoil database.

Origins of the National Soil Archive

In 2003, the soil specimen collections from the CSIRO labs in Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide, Hobart and Perth were sent to Canberra to create a national collection.

While the vast majority of original specimens were collected by CSIRO, many thousands of additional specimens have now been submitted by other organisations, predominantly state and territory agencies.

Soil specimens in the Archive date from the late 1920s to the present day.

Use this service

  • The National Soil Archive supports the submission of additional specimens to expand the national collection. It is becoming increasingly important to store historic and contemporary soil specimens from around Australia for future research, such as that related to soil carbon.
  • Want to submit a soil specimen? Contact us for a submission form.

Ms Linda Karssies

Manager of the Australian National Soil Archive (Land & Water)

CSIRO Black Mountain
Building 101
ACT 2601 Australia

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