National Soils Database

National Soils Data Repository (NSDR)

Since 2015, Manaaki Whenua is building a next generation, world-class soils observation data system


The National Soils Database (NSD) is a crucial part of our soil data legacy in New Zealand. The first database was created in 1980s. It has been migrated to three different relational databases in the intervening period but maintaining and improving the NSD was a challenge due to a substantial drop in funding for soil science over the last 20 years. An increasing realisation of the importance of soil to ensure productive food systems, improved rural livelihoods, and a sustainable healthy environment has seen a corresponding appreciation of the importance of soil data.

In June 2012 a review of the NSD identified a significant number of issues, and a plan of action was formulated to redevelop and improve the NSD to make it fit for purpose for today’s soil data needs. It was agreed that we needed to create a next generation, world class soils observation data system — the National Soils Data Repository (NSDR).

A new system for today's soil data demands

With a renewed focus on the importance of soils information and associated funding successes, the Land Resource Information System (LRIS) Programme has been working to revitalise the NSD. Efforts have focused on two major areas:

  1. the design and implementation of a world class soils observation data system able to meet today’s needs for soil data, and

  2. a tool for capturing new and legacy soil data.

The goal of this next generation database is to be able to generate new soils information cost effectively from a diverse set of data sources. This will allow integration of a range of resources such as soil quality data, National Soils database data, and S-map observations.

Fully utilised, the NSDR will result in a more cohesive system for soil resource information accessed through a web portal and advanced web data services that conform to national data standards and international data sharing protocols.

Key characteristics of the NSDR system

The National Soils Data Repository (NSDR) is a versatile soil observation database that now hosts the original National Soils Database. Whereas the original National Soils Database was very specific in purpose (for storage and presentation of pedologic data sampled by horizon with a minimum suite of analytical results), the NSDR database has been specifically designed with the capability of housing a variety of soil datasets that differ in content, format, and utility (such as accommodating soils sampled by depth intervals or sites resampled over time).

An important requirement was a computer-based data entry tool to resolve the bottleneck of getting more data into the NSDR. This tool – ‘Ragnar’ – allows Manaaki Whenua staff to upload site and soil information directly into the NSDR database. Samples taken in the field can also be registered, and associated lab analysis results downloaded to Ragnar from the laboratory databases once they become available and linked to the related site data in the NSDR (Figure 1).

ragnar main

Figure 1: Screenshot of the Data Entry Tool used by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research staff to facilitate data upload into the NSDR.

The new system also comes with a dedicated authorisation and identification tool, allowing secure access for customers to see their ‘own’ datasets.

The NSDR is designed and implemented so that each dataset can include full provenance information (such as detailed descriptions of the methods used to collect and analyse the data) while audit trails track changes to the data over time. Access to a dataset is managed ensuring that sensitive or confidential information can be securely stored and accessed. A key component of the NSDR is a registry of a full set of definitions for soil properties, their categorical value, related analysis methods, and units of measurement.

How to access NSDR data

The NSDR Viewer is the first element of the NSDR that has been publicly released. It can already be used to explore and download publicly available NSD soil point (profile) data across New Zealand (Figure 2).


Figure 2: The NSDR web viewer, accessible from

Currently, upload of old ('legacy') and more recent data is in full swing. Authorised users are able to access, search and download the additional soils data from across New Zealand.

More information

An article has appeared in the 2018 Soil Horizons newsletter on the NSDR and the work Manaaki Whenua does on retrieving soil legacy data.