History of the NSD

Until 1980 the National Soils Database was held in paper form only.

In 1980 students were employed to enter the data into a digital database, Datatrieve, on a Microvax II running under VMS. This database was chosen because it was considered to be the most suitable at the time. Soil data collected from 1964 to the present were entered. Pre-1964 data is held in a card filing system, in which analyses date back to 1938.

In 1993 the Foundation for Research Science and Technology provided funding to transfer the data from Datatrieve on the Vax to Borland Paradox for Windows (Paradox), a relational database which is a Personal Computer (PC) based system.

In 2000, the database has been ported to Microsoft SQL Server, a structured query language database, and is now accessible through the NSD Soil Explorer.


Database content

The NSD is a 'point' database containing descriptions of about 1,500 New Zealand soil profiles, together with their chemical, physical, and mineralogical characteristics.

The information is obtained from excavated pits usually up to 1.5 m deep but sometimes deeper, from which the soil scientists collect samples for chemical and physical analyses. Sometimes drilling down to 15 m or so is needed for sampling deep layers of volcanic ash.

Each soil profile pit (the data or sampling point) can take up to a day to describe. More than 200 individual pieces of data are either collected in the field or from the laboratory analyses. It has taken many years to build up the database, and the New Zealand component alone now represents about $15 million of information.

The full NSD contains information on the following aspects:

  • The site
  • Soil horizons
  • Soil chemistry
  • Soil physical analyses
  • Mineralogical (XRF) analyses
  • Soil/void relationships
  • Water retention measurements

Data availability varies from site to site, and not all sites have the full set of data.

The data are invaluable for understanding sustainable land management options:

  • Soil acidity, organic matter content, clay or silt content, toxicity, and phosphate retention may affect nutrient levels and their availability to plants.
  • Soil drainage, depth to water table, depth to an impermeable layer, gravel content, water-holding capacity, acidity, and mineralogy can indicate whether a soil is suitable for the intended use, e.g. particular crops, septic tank disposal fields, cemeteries, or sports fields.

To be profitable, primary production needs to incorporate information relevant to land use planning. Soil type has important implications for making management decisions, e.g. the type and extent of drainage systems required to grow particular crops, suitable irrigation regimes (amount, rate, and frequency of water), and fertiliser regimes.


Data access

The data of the National Soils Database (NSD) are freely available. There are two main ways this dataset can be explored:

  1. Use the NSD Soils Explorer tool to view and query NSD data from a map of New Zealand; or
  2. Access NSD through the NSDR Viewer. You can also download the datasets that make up the NSD from here.

There is more information on how to work with these tool on a dedicated Help page. You can also read about data provenance.


How to cite

If you need to cite the National Soils Database (NSD) in an article or report, please use the following citation:

Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research 2020. National Soils Database (NSD). https://doi.org/10.26060/95m4-cz25