Saturday, 15 July 2006

An accessible digital archive of soil maps.

Senthil-Kumar Selvaradjou1, Luca Montanarella1, Otto Spaargaren2, and David Dent2. (1) European Commission, Soil and Waste Unit, TP-280, Institute of Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy, (2) ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands

Soil maps made in the past remain the backbone of present and future land resource inventories and research in many fields apart from soil science: land degradation, changes in land use and water resources, and prediction of climatic and other environmental changes. Soil maps are not only databases; they are the footprints of our history, records of the know-how of soil survey and experimentation at national and international level.

‘Data and information are the essential building blocks of science. Many types of data, including extant historical data which have newly appreciated scientific importance for the analysis of changes over time, are not being used for research because they are not available in digital formats.'(International Council for Science 2004). The situation is becoming critical in many developing countries, and not only in developing countries. This is because of the loss of historical soil maps due to the lack of proper storage and retrieval infrastructures and the collapse of the institutions that have been responsible for the acquisition and maintenance of soil and land resources data. Digitization of the soil maps will enable those countries to recover and re-use their soil information.

The need to conserve the information on existing maps underlies the initiative of the Institute of Environment and Sustainability (IES) in the European Commission and ISRIC – World Soil Information to create the European Digital Archive of Soil Maps (EuDASM). The immediate objective is to transfer the soil information of the developing countries into digital format, with the maximum resolution possible - to preserve the information of paper maps that are vulnerable to deterioration. Beyond data rescue, the archive is expected to develop into a common platform for storing soil maps from around the world and making the information readily accessible.

During the first phase, more than two thousand maps of the soils of Africa from the ISRIC – World Soil Information archive were digitized. The Soil Maps of Africa are now available on line for free access in the European Commission portal of the Soil and Waste Unit ( and, also, as a digital DVD-ROM version for distribution to all decision makers and research communities. ”The first edition contains maps categorized according to coverage: African continental coverage (151), Algeria (25), Angola (12), Benin (16), Botswana (51), Burkina Faso (38), Burundi (3), Cameroon (64), Cape Verde (10), Central African Republic (13), Chad (74), Comoros (4), Congo (10), Cτte d'Ivoire (39), Egypt (75), Ethiopia (49), Gabon (14), Gambia (22), Ghana (76), Guinea (33), Kenya (339), Lesotho (16), Liberia (4), Libya (19), Madagascar (41), Malawi (10), Mali (34), Morocco (23), Mauritania (16), Mauritius (3), Mozambique (56), Namibia (6), Niger (23), Nigeria (180), Reunion (2), Rwanda (13), Senegal (20), Seychelles (4), Sierra Leone (21), Somalia (22), South Africa (69), Saint Helena (9), Sudan (30), Swaziland (19), Tanzania (101), Togo (41), Tunisia (26), Uganda (14), Zaire – Democratic Republic of Congo (6), Zambia (60), Zimbabwe (63);according to scale as small-scale soil maps of > 1:1 million (265), exploratory soil maps of 1:250,000 – 1:1 million (579), reconnaissance soil maps of 1:100,000 – 1:250,000 (569), semi-detailed soil maps of 1:10,000 – 1:25,000 (470), detailed soil maps of 1:10,000 – 1:25,000 (74) and very detailed sol maps of <1:10,000 (14); according to period - pre-1950 (37), 1950–60 (117), 1960–70 (602), 1970–80 (553), 1980–90 (442) and >1990 (107); according to theme, by keywords soil (805), soil management (85), soil profiles (32), soil suitability (162), topography (516), vegetation (164), biogeography (18), climate (134), geology (152), hydrology (94), land use (206), physical geography (164) and social geography (49).

Soil Maps of Asia and Soil Maps of Latin America & the Caribbean are in progress and will be completed in 2006. Meanwhile, we are seeking collaboration with other holders of valuable maps that can be added in a second edition of Soil Maps of Africa and to extend the conservation and access to maps of other continents.

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