Saturday, 15 July 2006

Reconsidering Soil Survey Information Delivery in the 21st Century.

Douglas A. Miller1, Brian W. Bills1, Sharon W. Waltman2, William J. Waltman1, and Edward J. Ciolkosz1. (1) The Pennsylvania State University, 2217 Earth-Engineering Sciences Bldg., University Park, PA 16802, (2) USDA-NRCS-NGDC, 157 Clark Hall Annex, Prospect Street, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506

Soils are complex natural bodies that undergo temporal and spatial change. Likewise, the information resources developed from traditional soil surveys, laboratory characterization, and attribute databases are also complex and generally difficult to interpret by those outside of the discipline of soil science. While members of the soil science community and knowledgeable users can generally navigate through this mosaic of soil information resources, non-soil scientists and first-time users often become overwhelmed by the complexity of locating and determining the specific soil information to meet their needs. The challenge has been, and remains, to provide diverse customers with access to this vast body of soil information in forms that are easily interpreted and applied.

Soil information resources are at the top of the list of most natural resource information needs for a wide range of activities conducted by land managers, educators, scientists, planners, conservationists, and the general public. While good progress has been made, including the recent transition toward digital soils data, the soil survey community faces significant challenges in a number of areas that prevent consumers of soil data and information from achieving maximum benefit. These challenges include: exclusivity in defining the traditional customers for soil information, making the leap from raw digital soil data to refined soil information, and developing creative ways to provide access to soil information resources that are in forms and formats that more closely meet the multiple needs of the end-user.

Soil survey can move beyond simply delivering data to providing information that effectively meets user needs by facilitating the development of soil information products and services that are easier to access, easier to understand, and easily customized to the consumer's needs. For example, how can standard soil taxonomic information captured as a part of soil survey be effectively translated into more meaningful agronomic interpretations? When soil survey uses ancillary information resources like climate station observations, how can we combine these resources into higher-level products that improve decision making?

This paper will attempt to stimulate a new, broader vision for soil information resource delivery by identifying the specific challenges and potential pathways that the soil survey community can begin to take to meet the growing demanding for soil information resources in the 21st century. Examples drawn from previous and current projects that apply advanced Web technology to the delivery of soil information resources will be used to support this vision.

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