Soil and Landscapes


Also known as 11. Soil and Landscapes

Date created: 2020-07-31
Date modified: 2021-01-13

Member of


  1. Plot description
  2. Soil characterisation to 1 m+
  3. Soil observations
  4. Soil bulk density
  5. Soil samples

Large swathes of the Australian rangelands have limited or no soils information. The AusPlots Rangelands survey results and collected samples will be a valuable resource to help resolve this. When the recommendation is to sample to 30 cm or to 1 m, every effort should be made to satisfy these requirements, however, after three failed attempts, (curtailed due to rock, hardpan, water etc.) then the attempt should be abandoned and the reason documented. (If subsequent analyses of limited samples collected from a plot indicate the plot(s) to be of particular interest, then future surveys can target these areas and additional equipment included to facilitate soil characterisation).

The soil samples will be stored in collaboration with the CSIRO National Soil Archive in Canberra. The samples represent a considerable and important addition to the national collection. A number of the collected samples will have preliminary chemical and/or mid infrared spectroscopy analyses and all samples will be available for future description and analyses as per National Soil Archive guidelines.

The recommended soil surveys and samples collected are based on a spatial hierarchy across each 1 ha plot. A 25 x 25 m focus area will be located in the southwest corner of the AusPlots plot, and is consistent with SCaRP (Soil Carbon Research Program), National Soil Condition Monitoring protocols and developing national ASRIS (Australian Soil Resource Information System), TERN Soils Facility and international soil data products (e.g. Global Soil Map). Additional sampling will be spread across the remainder of the plot to extend the coverage to enable a better representation of plot variability in the rangelands.

Transport of soil and plant samples across state borders must satisfy relevant quarantine requirements.

The five separate activities that occur within the soils survey and sampling processes:

  1. Plot description
  2. Soil characterisation to 1m+- pit/core/samples
  3. Soils observations across the plot – 9 cores to 30 cm
  4. Soil bulk densities are covered in different sections within this chapter
  5. Soil samples

The activities undertaken for all these (but especially 11b) will depend on the level of knowledge and experience of the field operator. People with experience in collecting or describing soils (pedologists), are able to undertake more detailed descriptions in the field, this being the preferred approach. A less experienced operator can collect samples for more detailed descriptions back in the lab, but some site-based descriptions e.g. profile characteristics, are not possible. This chapter details the essential soil survey methods, while Appendix 3 details the procedures and descriptions possible when a pedologist undertakes the surveys.

The soils survey process and soils description are based on the third edition (2009) of the “Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook”, referred to as the “Yellow Book”. Relevant pages are listed in brackets (YB) on the field data collection sheets and in the data collection app for reference when describing different aspects of the soils.

Background Information

On the field data app, some background information will be collected automatically, but on the data sheets the following information must be recorded:

  • State
  • Agency
  • Project (AusPlots Rangelands)
  • Date
  • Described by (name of person/s collecting the information)
  • Location description - a general description to assist with plot re-location e.g. 3.2 km southwest of "Deadcat bore" 100 m to the north of the track.

Figure 6. An AusPlots Rangelands survey plot, with the preferred orientation, layout of the 10 point intercept transects and indicative locations of the soil pit and 9 soil cores to 30 cm across the plot. (Refer to the text for guidelines on the location of these 9 cores). 

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White, A, Sparrow, B., Leitch, E., Foulkes, J., Flitton, R., Lowe, A.J., Caddy-Retalic, S. (2012). AusPlots Rangelands Survey Protocols Manual. Version 1.2.9 page 45-46. Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network and The University of Adelaide Press.

TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, NCRIS.