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Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook

Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook

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Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook

414 pagine
1 ora
Mar 31, 2009


The Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook specifies methods and terminology for soil and land surveys. It has been widely used throughout Australia, providing one reference set of definitions for the characterisation of landform, vegetation, land surface, soil and substrate.

The book advocates that a comprehensive suite of land and soil attributes be recorded in a uniform manner. This approach is more useful than the allocation of land or soil to preconceived types or classes.

The third edition includes revised chapters on location and vegetation as well as some new landform elements. These updates have been guided by the National Committee on Soil and Terrain, a steering committee comprising representatives from key federal, state and territory land resource assessment agencies.

Essential reading for all professionals involved in land resource surveys, this book will also be of value to students and educators in soil science, geography, ecology, agriculture, forestry, resource management, planning, landscape architecture and engineering.

Mar 31, 2009

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Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook - National Committee on Soil and Terrain



J.G. Speight and R.F. Isbell


This Handbook is intended to contribute to the systematic recording of field observations in Australian soil and land surveys. It attempts to:

list attributes² thought necessary to describe adequately site and soil conditions

define these attributes consistently wherever possible with their use elsewhere in the world but giving particular emphasis to Australian conditions

define terms and categories for landform, vegetation, land surface, soil and substrate material that are based explicitly on the specified attributes

suggest codings for the various attributes, terms and categories so that concise recording systems may be developed for field use.

A further purpose of the Handbook is to provide a factual database from which interpretations can be made. Field observations provide the basis for predicting the consequences of land use. These may be supplemented by data from air photos, maps, records, laboratory analyses, experiments, local information and so on. The chain of inference for making such predictions has been clearly established in only a few instances, evidence that perhaps the weakest link is the collection of relevant field data.

This Handbook was prepared to meet the needs of somewhat diverse surveys. The Handbook covers a range of soil surveys, typically at medium and small scales, and ‘land system’, ‘land unit’, ‘biophysical’, ‘ecological’ and ‘environmental impact’ surveys, whether for agricultural, recreational, industrial, residential or other purposes such as a general scientific inventory. The observations proposed are relevant to surveys at diverse scales, although surveys at very large scales commonly demand both more detailed observations, and also observations of particular attributes that probably have not been included here. At such large scales, many attributes of the site that surrounds each point of soil observation may be uniform over most of the points, and thus is of little interest within the context of the given survey. However, if site attributes are recorded for at least a few of the observation points, they may prove extremely valuable in later correlative work.

The recording of attributes of the site and adjacent landforms has two distinct purposes. First, the attributes may be directly relevant to land use – for example, to ploughing feasibility, earthmoving costs, erosion hazards, scenic resources and costs of clearing. Second, the attributes are a link between the hidden physical and chemical properties of the soil, regolith or bedrock, for which data will always be scarce, and the visible properties of landform, surface material, and vegetation that may be more readily mapped and catalogued.

Site attributes link to other attributes both within a site and beyond it. Attributes are intended to be correlated with soil and other subsurface properties observed at the site in order to discover significant relationships between them. Relationships implied in some surveys have lacked adequate support (Bleeker and Speight 1978; Chittleborough 1978). Better validation is required to justify extrapolative mapping and the setting up of land units or land components. The site data, however, are intended to establish local ‘ground truth’ values for the landform, surface material and vegetative properties that contribute to the more extensively developed characteristic image, ‘signature’, or pattern on an air photo or other remote-sensing record.


The Handbook is designed as a reference to attributes needed to describe systematically the site and soil conditions related to landform, vegetation, land surface, soil profile and substrate materials.

The glossaries and definitions of terms will provide a uniform understanding of the meaning of words used in field notes, in discussion and in publications. This will enhance communication.

The attributes are to form the basis of lists to be used for specific surveys. When developed, these lists will provide sufficient information to support the survey conclusions. For each attribute, there is a suggested scheme of classes, but this does not preclude the observation and recording of actual numerical values where feasible.

Suggested code letters and numbers for each attribute described appear in red.

Not all conceivable soil properties are provided for and hence some properties may need to be recorded, if desired, in free format – for example, orientation of mottles.

All dimensions are expressed in SI units.

The attributes to be recorded in a specific survey will depend on its purpose and scale and will be decided upon by the organisation conducting the survey. In reconnaissance surveys, fewer site and profile attributes will be described than in high-intensity surveys. For detailed site and profile descriptions such as those required for pedological research, descriptions of agronomic research sites or in the legend-making stage of detailed surveys, most of the attributes given in this Handbook will be recorded, if present.

It is important that sites and profiles be described as they are and not as they may have been. Sites and profiles should be described as factually as practicable but genetic inferences are inevitable. Where genetic inferences are used, the basis of the inference should be noted so the user is aware of assumptions made. The field observations are for the descriptions of sites (page 5) and not for soil classes or for aspects of mapping units that are better recorded in the office rather than in the field. Although diagnostic horizons necessary for particular soil classification systems, for instance Soil Taxonomy (Soil Survey Staff 1975), are not included, the field observations recorded may be used to classify soil in this or in any other soil classification scheme. Coding for soil classification schemes most likely to be used in Australia is given in Appendix 1.

Most of the attributes of soil to be observed, horizon by horizon, are widely accepted among pedologists. However, there are some that do not have direct relevance to land use; rather, they serve as surrogates for properties that are impractical to observe or measure routinely.

²No distinction is made between the word ‘attribute’ and the word ‘property’ used in the Soil Profile section. Both mean ‘characteristic’ or ‘trait’. ‘Attribute’ includes ‘variable’. Observations produce values of attributes or properties.


J.G. Speight and R.C. McDonald

A site is a small area of land considered representative of the landform, vegetation, land surface and other land features associated with the soil observation.

The extent of a site is arbitrary but certain dimensions are appropriate for certain attributes.

Observe landform element attributes over a circle of 20 m radius (1256 m²) and landform pattern attributes over a circle of 300 m radius (28.3 ha). Sample vegetation in a square or rectangular site of 400 m². In sites dominated by ground layer, several 20–50 m² samples or 10–20 m transects are used. Observe most land surface attributes within a site 10 m in radius (315 m²); these attributes are: slope, aspect, disturbance of site, microrelief, surface coarse fragments, rock outcrop and runoff. A few land surface attributes refer simply to the point of soil observation, namely elevation, drainage height and depth to free water; the attributes erosion, aggradation and inundation refer to the larger 20 m radius site used for landform element attributes.

In some instances a soil observation may be representative only of a soil body smaller than 10 m in radius. For example, in some gilgai the vegetation, land surface and soil all differ between the mound and depression. In such instances the extent of the site for those features is only that of the mound or the depression.


L.J. Gregory, R.C. McDonald and R.F. Isbell


Record the method used to acquire the coordinates.


Record the code as follows for the State or Territory in which the site is described. These codes have been changed from McDonald and Isbell (1990).



Record the datum of the coordinates. Older maps will generally be based on the Australian Geodetic Datum of 1966 or 1984 (AGD66, AGD84), while current maps should be based on the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA94). If you are obtaining coordinates from a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, the native datum is the World Geodetic System (WGS84). However, this may not be the display default so check the settings. For further information, see the Geocentric datum of Australia technical manual (Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping 2002).


State whether the coordinates are projected or geographic.


Most topographic map sheets are projected onto the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system. In Australia, this will be called the Australian Map Grid (AMG) or the Map Grid of Australia (MGA) depending on the datum used. The easting and northing coordinates taken from these sheets will have 6 digits and 7 digits respectively. The zone will also be required (49–56 in Australia). Do not use the Universal Grid Reference notation.³


When using a GPS or a regional map, record coordinates in latitude and longitude. Record southern hemisphere latitudes as negative.

Easting, northing, zone

Record easting and northing UTM projected coordinates, when reading from a topographic map. Give a 6-figure easting, a 7-figure northing and a 2-figure grid zone (49–56 in Australia), as accurately as map scale permits. Location of the central point of a site on a map is unlikely to be much more accurate than 1 mm on the map (i.e. 10 m on a 1:10 000 scale map, or 100 m on a 1:100 000 scale map).


Latitude and longitude

Coordinates may be given in degrees, minutes and seconds (DMS) where a location is read from a small-scale (regional) map. When locating with a GPS, record the coordinates in decimal degrees (DD) to five places to obtain a precision to the metre. Latitudes (giving the north or the south part of the coordinate) will be negative in Australia.



Give map sheet details regardless of the method used to obtain the coordinates. This will provide a cross-check for attribute accuracy. At scales larger than 1:100 000, use the numbering system for the State or Territory in which the survey is conducted.

Map scale

Map sheet number and map sheet name

Give number and name on the map, for example:


Record the GPS survey method used to obtain the coordinates and estimate the accuracy. Make sure you also record the datum and projection settings in the appropriate section. Submetre accuracy is usually obtained only through the use of differential techniques. Autonomous (single unit) methods can obtain <15 m accuracy under optimal conditions. Understand the limitations of the equipment and the various factors that will affect the accuracy.

GPS method

Accuracy estimate


Film number

Give film number on photo, for example:

CABC/C/999 or NSW 2719

Run number

Give number of run.

Frame number

Give number of the individual photo.

Site reference

East (mm)

North (mm)

Give position of site on photo in millimetres east from western edge of the photo and north from southern edge. It is strongly recommended that the site should be marked on the air photo by pricking through the print and writing the site number on the back.

³ The Universal Grid Reference (National Mapping Council of Australia 1986) uses a zone designator and 000 metre square identification along with a reduced set of digits. The example given in the section ‘Easting, northing, zone’ (see page 9) would be recorded as 55HFA9208494905 (’55H’ is the zone designator while ‘FA’ is the 000 metre square identification).


R.C. McDonald and R.F. Isbell


Give first three letters of surname and one initial, for example:


Give date profile described, for example:

23 December 1989, as 231289


Give mean annual rainfall, in millimetres, from nearest recording station or climate surface.



J.G. Speight


The description of landform in soil and land surveys has several purposes:

it has direct application to land use planning

the description is useful for finding relationships to support the extrapolation of point observations

it helps to predict the land degradation that may follow various land uses.

Also, landform description often permits the reader to identify the part of terrain under discussion.

Landform description and classification have scarcely developed far enough in any country to meet the needs of land use planning (Lynch and Kolenbrander 1981). The scheme that follows is intended to produce a record of observations rather than inferences. Where inference is implied in geomorphological terminology and practice, a clear record of what has been inferred is presented.

In this technique for describing landforms, the whole land surface is viewed as a mosaic of tiles of odd shapes and sizes. To impose order, the mosaic is treated as if the tiles are of two distinct sizes, the larger ones being themselves mosaics of the smaller ones. The larger tiles, more than 600 m across, are called landform patterns. About 40 types of landform pattern are defined. They include, for example, flood plain, dunefield and hills. The smaller tiles, which form mosaics within landform patterns, are about 40 m or more across. These are called landform elements. Among more than 80 defined types of landform element are included, for example, cliff, footslope and valley flat.

Landform elements and landform patterns are described and classified into named types by the values of their landform attributes. Distinct suites of landform attributes relate to landform elements and landform patterns, respectively. Slope and position in a toposequence are key attributes for landform elements. Relief and stream occurrence describe landform patterns.

Each of these two landform units is an integral part of a land unit defined in the companion handbook Guidelines for surveying soil and land resources (McKenzie et al. 2008). A landform element is the landform part of a land facet, and a landform pattern is the landform part of a land system.

Maps to display units based on landform can show either landform elements or landform patterns. For each map scale, a unit that is narrower than about 3 mm on the map cannot be read easily. Landform patterns have a characteristic dimension of about 600 m. This is the recommended size for sampling the landform pattern to evaluate its attributes. It is also the normal minimum width of a mapped landform pattern. It follows that landform patterns are best shown on a map at 1:200 000 scale. Landform elements, with a characteristic dimension of about 40 m, are best shown at 1:15 000 scale. Table 1 shows which of these two units is more appropriate on maps of various scales. Both landform elements and landform patterns may extend over areas very much larger then their characteristic

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