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SALIS : accessible soil information for better natural resources management

A.J.E. McGaw, K.J. Nixon, H.B. Milford, G.A. Chapman, C.L. Murphy, J.A. Edye and N.A. Simons

Resource Information Systems
Department of Land and Water Conservation
PO Box 3720, Parramatta, NSW 2124
(Phone) 02 9895 6204, (Fax) 02 9895 7985


The New South Wales Soil And Land Information System (SALIS) is a database containing descriptions of soils, landscapes and other geographic features within New South Wales. SALIS can be used to store and retrieve information about soils and landscapes. Because this information is stored centrally it can be used in multiple ways well beyond the primary purpose of its collection.

SALIS currently contains soil landscape information, soil physical and chemical data collected at over 40,000 sites and laboratory analysis for over 10,000 of these sites across NSW. The amount and variety of natural resource information being stored in SALIS is growing every year. Anybody can store or retrieve soil and landscape information from SALIS. Information can be entered into SALIS using Soil Data Cards, which are a quick and convenient way of recording the attributes of a soil profile in the field, or spreadsheets of soil chemical and physical data. Information can be retrieved by contacting the SALIS Information Officer or by using the SPADE spatial viewer at

SALIS provides a comprehensive solution to the collection, storage and distribution of soil and land information, by acting as a central storage area for people to obtain soil and landscape information. SALIS provides a safe storage environment for information, so that users of the system can retrieve it and use it in the future.

History of Digital Soil Data Storage in New South Wales

Computerised soil data storage in New South Wales began in the early 1980’s as a central repository for soil profile and laboratory records, in response to a statutory responsibility under the NSW Soil Conservation Act. The first soil database was a PDP11 database known as the New South Wales Soil Data System (SDS) that was administered by the then NSW Soil Conservation Service (SCS). It was upgraded in the late 1980’s to an Informix 4GL database with a SQL front-end running in a UNIX environment.

With the redevelopment of NSW SDS in the late 1980's came the introduction of scannable Soil Data Cards. The Soil Data Card is a scannable medium that provides a structured way of recording soil and land information in-the-field whilst avoiding issues such as data double-handling and transcription errors. There are a number of different types of Soil Data Cards each produced for somewhat different requirements.

After considerable advances in computer technology in the 1990’s it was decided that the NSW SDS needed to be replaced. By this stage the NSW SCS had been absorbed into firstly the NSW Department of Conservation and Land Management (CaLM) and then the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC). Consequently, in April 1997 development began on the NSW Soil And Land Information System (SALIS). The first version of SALIS was rolled out in April 1999 using an Oracle 7.3 database and a Centura front-end running in Windows. The SALIS database was recently upgraded to Oracle 8i Spatial.

What is SALIS?

The Soil and Land information System (SALIS) is a digital information system that stores and allow the analysis of the substantial natural resource data set held in custodianship by the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC), in particular land and soil information. SALIS provides a storage, management and distribution solution for both point-based data sets such as soil profiles, and for spatial (map) information, including DLWC’s Soil Landscape Maps and Acid Sulfate Soil Risk Maps.

Soil information is intensive and expensive to obtain. Storing soil information in SALIS provides accessibility to data, avoids duplication of effort and allows the information to be used many times for purposes well beyond the initial intended use. The ultimate aim of SALIS is to provide accessible and reliable soil and other related natural resource data for soil and land management decision making in NSW

The SALIS Database

SALIS uses an object-oriented relational database in Oracle 7.3, in contrast to SDS which used a conventional star schema. This highly configurable, scalable data model allows the easy addition of new data elements and tables. However, although all soil data held by SALIS and its predecessor SDS has always been geolocated (using AMG grid references), the spatial component of the information was relatively difficult to access directly as, effectively, neither SALIS nor SDS was capable of directly translating these numbers into a location on the Earth’s surface.

The upgrade to Oracle 8i Spatial in late 2000 allowed SALIS information to be directly spatially enabled. This has allowed the SALIS database to be expanded to store Soil Landscape map polygons and their associated information. Also, the spatial information now stored in SALIS can be accessed directly by suitable Geographic Information Systems and spatial viewers. The first tools to take advantage of this access are a custom SALIS extension for ESRI’s ArcView 3.2 GIS, and a public Internet spatial viewer known as the Soil Profile Attribute Data Environment (SPADE).

SPADE is also an indication of the direction being taken in terms of data access infrastructure. The core SALIS applications, is accessible via the DLWC Wide Area Network for internal clients, but is primarily aimed at the data administration role. The main systems for end users to access SALIS data in useable forms are being developed to take advantage of the Intranet and Internet. SPADE is the first step along this path.

Types of data stored in SALIS

SALIS contains soil chemical and physical data collected at over 48,000 sites in NSW (Figure 1), with thousands of further points being added every year. Soil Landscape information, polygon data and images are also starting to be added to SALIS, with the aim of entering all information from DLWC’s Soil Landscape reports into SALIS within the next year. The soil and landscape information in SALIS is mostly obtained from NSW soil survey records (DLWC’s Soil Landscape mapping program) but also contains a substantial amount of information collected by soil scientists for many other purposes.

Figure 1: Soil Profile Point Map

The fundamental soil record in the SALIS database is the soil profile. In SALIS, groups of soil profiles are gathered together into larger entities called Surveys. Information about the site and location, the landscape, geology, vegetation, ground surface, erosion, land use, soil layer and laboratory chemical and physical test data can be stored for each soil profile record, along with photographic images of the soil, site and/or locality. SALIS supports all widely used methods of Soil Classification in Australia, including the new Australian Soil Classification (Isbell 1996). All of the soil profile and layer attributes stored in SALIS are defined in accordance with the Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook (McDonald et al. 1990), and the SALIS database is closely aligned with the National standards for soil data storage as mandated by the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP).

Soil Landscapes are stored in SALIS as just one part of a hierarchy of landscape mapping units. At the broadest scale are units known as Provinces, of which there are between 10 and 20 in NSW, which are composed of more detailed regional-scale units called Physiographic Regions. These divisions are directly built up from the Soil Landscapes themselves, which are mapped at 1:100,000 scale in eastern NSW and at 1:250,000 scale in central and western areas of NSW. In turn, Soil Landscapes are subdivided into even smaller-scale units called Facets. This structure is in broad alignment with the prevailing National standards for landscape description. Soil Landscapes are described both in terms of their many attributes, ranging from the characteristics of their landform through to their hydrology and soils, and attendant Geological Units and Vegetation Units that describe the specifics of their lithology and native and introduced flora.

Soil and Land Information Entry in SALIS

SALIS allows the entry of soil profile and laboratory information in many forms. The Soil Data Card is the primary source of soil profile information, used by all the DLWC’s Soil Surveyors and also by many independent users, such as NSW Agriculture and Australian Water Technology (AWT). There are several different kinds of Soil Data Card available, ranging from 2-sided single page cards for soil and land observations up to a comprehensive 8-page booklet. Soil Data Cards are supplied free-of-charge to their users, and come with a comprehensive Soil Data Entry Handbook (Milford et al. 2001) that describes how to use them.

Once a Soil Data Card has been filled in, it is returned to the SALIS staff to be scanned and loaded into SALIS. The soil profile is then assigned to its parent Survey and, after being verified as error free, the soil data may be viewed and used depending on the status it has been assigned. Most SALIS soil profile information, once checked and certified error-free, is assigned the status of Public by the owner, which means that it is accessible to any member of the community. Some data, particularly information in draft form or contributed for safe storage by clients under conditions of commercial confidentiality, is retained as Confidential information. This guarantees that the data can be accessed only by its owner (typically the person who collected the data) and is used only for purposes that the owner deems suitable.

Soil and land information held in databases or spreadsheets can be loaded into SALIS via a tool called the SALIS Data Import Module (SADIM). Images can also be loaded into SALIS via SADIM. Any data sent into the SALIS staff in electronic or report format can be loaded using this tool, error checked and if assigned as Public, become available immediately.

Accessing Information from SALIS

There are several ways to gain access to data from SALIS and a number of formats in which to receive the data. All public profile and laboratory data is available to any interested persons, either by contacting the SALIS staff or via the Soil Attribute Profile Data Environment (SPADE) spatial viewer, available free over the Internet at To enable specific data searches in SALIS, further query software was added to the system. Brio Query software was purchased in 1999 to enable complex queries and calculations to be carried out on the data stored in SALIS. Brio Query gives many different types of outputs, including spreadsheets, charts and graphs. Members of the public can access SALIS data free of charge, although small charges may be applied to queries involving large amounts of data to be used for commercial purposes.

SALIS outputs can be customised to suit the client’s needs and are available in various forms, including:

  • Excel spreadsheets containing raw data from the area of interest;
  • Plain English Reports, which deliver the information in an easy to read format for each soil profile, and Figure 2;

Figure 2: Plain English Report as produced by SPADE.

Derivative maps of specific classified soil or land attributes, such as a map of soil profiles in NSW classified by surface soil pH as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Soil pH in NSW

The future of SALIS

Ongoing development of SALIS is taking two broad directions. The first is to expand the database to include all relevant land and soil information held by DLWC. The 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 Soil Landscape maps are to be progressively added to SALIS over the next year, and will be followed by DLWC’s Acid Sulfate Soil Risk Maps, the Western Land Systems mapping data, and other natural resource map information. Associated developments within other databases of DLWC will add access to other sources of landscape information such as Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) and remotely-sensed information such as radiometrics images.

The second development direction is to expand and enhance public access to this information. The SPADE spatial viewer is to be enhanced over the next year to provide access to map polygon information from the SALIS database, and also to allow secure access to SALIS data for registered users. This will allow SALIS data providers to gain access to their own Confidential data. Furthermore, progressively more powerful query and display capability is to be added to the interface, allowing users to ‘drill through’ map polygon data to access underlying information and produce reports and Derivative maps from that data.


Isbell, R.F. 1996, The Australian Soil Classification, CSIRO, Australia.

Milford, H.B. McGaw, A.J.E., and Nixon, K.J. 2001, Soil Data Entry Handbook, 3rd Edition, NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, Sydney.

McDonald R.C., Isbell, R.F., Speight, J.G., Walker, J. and Hopkins, M.S. (1990). Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook, 2nd Edition, Inkata Press, Melbourne

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