Soils at Manaaki Whenua

National Soils Archive


The National Soils Archive (NSA) holds the physical soil samples ‘archived’ once laboratory and other analysis has been completed, and data added to the National Soils Data Repository (NSDR). It underpins the data within the National Soils Database (NSD) as well as the data from Topoclimate South and MfE-funded Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) Programme.

National Soils Archive

A corridor in Manaaki Whenua's National Soil Archive (NSA) facility.

As some of the samples date back to the 1930s the collection is a valuable resource for investigating soil chemical properties before topdressing of NZ farms became common, and before international testing of nuclear bombs. In addition, the collection has been a valuable asset for investigations into the reflectance of various electromagnetic wavelengths from soils.

The long-term vision is to form a true 'National Archive', including soil samples from other institutions across New Zealand.


The NSA is a collection of some 35,000 dried and sieved soil samples. The earliest soil sample (Ref. SB510A) was collected by Harry Gibbs in 1939 - an A horizon (0-5 inches) of a Mataurau silt loam from Hawkes Bay. Most samples were collected through soil survey work processed by the soil chemistry laboratory of the DSIR Soil Bureau until 1992, and relate to published DSIR soil survey publications. Associated chemical, mineralogical and physical data on the samples is recorded in the National Soils Database.

The collection is not a complete set of samples - not all soils in the database are present and not all horizons for individual profiles remain in the collection. Despite this incompleteness, the collection is an impressive archive of soil samples from throughout New Zealand.

Example of NSA sample

An archived soil sample from the Central Otago soil survey (1959)

After 1992 soil samples were added to the collection after analysis by Manaaki Whenua's Environmental Chemistry Laboratory. These later samples originated from commercial contract work carried out by Landcare Research such as the Southland soil survey (Topoclimate South) and the MfE-funded Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) Programme.

The archive includes:

  • The original field records that support the collection and the NSD.

  • Hardcopy files of laboratory analytical data that predate storage in electronic form.

  • Both are currently stored separately in our building in Palmerston


  • 28,254 samples in glass jars (older samples), 60 ml plastic containers (MfE LUCAS samples) and 150 g plastic containers for samples archived after 1995.

  • Approx. 5,000 clay fractions for soils in the National Soils Database (NSD) analysed for mineralogical composition.
  • Paper copies of the NSD (the original 'yellow cards' and the hard copy analytical data)

  • Paper record laboratory files with analysis results for samples archived  before these records were generated electronically.
  • Soil reports and papers containing chemical and other analyses carried out on the samples in the archive.

The National Soils Archive is located near our Palmerston North site.