Terms of reference

1. Overview and Purpose

The Advisory Group on Digital Soil Assessment (DSA) 1 is a working group of the National Committee on Soil & Terrain (NCST).

The NCST is the Australian national body that oversees land and soil issues – especially those relating to site and spatial data and information. It has Commonwealth, CSIRO, State and Territory membership. Its primary roles are to oversee the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP) – which operates the Australia Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS) – manage the Australia Land & Soil Survey Handbook Series, inform policy, and coordinate national, state and regional activities.

The Advisory Group on DSA is a skills-based group that provides information, advice and recommendations to the NCST, as well as leadership and support with respect to the development and use of digital technologies and methodologies designed to produce high-quality land and soil spatial information for improved management and use of Australia’s soil and land resources.

2. Scope

The primary document that outlines the themes of the Advisory Group is Recommendations for the Advancement of Digital Soil Assessment in Australia (Robinson et al. 2010), which has been accepted as an official report by the NCST committee.

The Advisory Group should:

  • National Forum: provide a national forum to discuss activities and share information relating to DSA, including at DSA-focussed Technical Workshops 2.
  • Technologies, Methodologies & Trends: advise on DSA technologies, methodologies and trends.
  • Capacity: recommend and support strategies to build capacity in DSA across Australia 3.
  • Training: recommend, support and facilitate DSA training opportunities 4.
  • Projects: recommend and support DSA projects that are designed to develop high-quality spatial data, build capacity and enhance collaboration across Australia 5.
  • Products: recommend and support strategies with respect to development, accessibility and use of DSA products.
  • Promotion: advise on promotion of DSA techniques, methodologies and products, as well as support related activities.
  • Review: support the review of DSA prediction methods, where such review would assist the process of future testing and application of DSA in deriving high-quality soil information 6.
  • Policy: advise on associated policy development, and engage with policy and decision makers on the purpose of DSA, including how DSA can meet the needs of user groups across Australia.
  • NPEI: encourage recognition of DSA as a fundamental contributor to the National Plan for Environmental Information.
  • ACLEP: assist ACLEP in its role of support for collaborative DSA projects and capacity building, as well as product development and facilitation of data accessibility 7.
  • Guidelines & Manuals: recommend upon and support the establishment of guidelines and/or manuals 8.
  • Standards: recommend and support the development of standards for DSA products.
  • Endorsement: recommend DSA products for endorsement by NCST.

3. Objectives and Work Plan

The Advisory Group is to develop an annual work plan for endorsement by the NCST.

4. Reporting and Review

Report on progress by the Advisory Group Chair or proxy at each NCST meeting. The Advisory Group to be reviewed by the NCST annually.

5. Meeting and Internal Communication Arrangements

Meet as required by teleconference or other means. Communication outside of meeting times via email, etc.

6. Membership

Ross Searle (Chair, CSIRO), Jonathon Hopley (Vic), Mark Thomas (CSIRO), John Wilford (GA), Darren Kidd (Tas), Graeme Owen (NT), Jason Hill (NT), Brian Jenkins (NSW), Greg Summerell (NSW), Ted Griffin (WA), Nathan Robinson (Vic), Budiman Minasny (UofS) and Craig Liddicoat (SA). New members by invitation of the Advisory Group or NCST.

7. Wider Group of Interest

A wider group of interest of those involved in DSA activities is to be kept informed of Advisory Group activities and be provided with the opportunity of commenting on plans and documents (e.g. some CSIRO and ACLEP staff have asked to be kept informed of developments).

8. Chair

Ross Searle (CSIRO)

9. Financial Implications

No special allocation. In-kind preparation time and teleconferencing by members and their agencies. Any funding for travel to be by prior agreement with relevant parties.


1.             DSA is the computer-aided development of predictive maps of soil properties or attributes (e.g. soil pH or clay content). It uses traditionally developed soil data (both site and spatial data), newly available remotely or proximally sensed data (e.g. terrain analysis), as well as a range of geo-statistical techniques to predict the soil attributes of spatial entities (usually in the form of geographic grid cells). (From Recommendations for the Advancement of Digital Soil Assessment in Australia – Robinson et al. 2010, p.4).

2.             A regular series of national workshops would facilitate information-sharing and collaboration among practitioners and other interested parties, with state-based projects used as foci at these events. Multi-disciplinary / integrated NRM approaches could also be encouraged and explored at such workshops.

3.             Capacity would be enhanced by the development of centres of excellence in DSA that take the lead on, provide the main support and provide the major link role for various aspects of DSA: this follows national RD&E strategies, where various jurisdictions concentrate on specific fields of endeavour (not every jurisdiction needs to have capacity or skills in every area), while membership of such groups need not be limited to those living in the same locality.

4.             Key training needs that have been identified are:

  • spatial disaggregation techniques (to value-add to existing spatial data)
  • applied geo-statistics (targeting LRA professionals)
  • using covariate data (e.g. radiometrics & terrain attributes) to predict soil attributes
  • applying the depth-spline function to existing data (to value-add to existing data)
  • specific training in applied geomorphometry (the science of generating landform/terrain derivatives from digital elevation models)
  • training in the use of associated software (e.g. SAGA, JMP, R, gstat, Vesper, SOLIM).

5.             A collaborative DSA program would enhance project development and coordination across Australia as well as capacity building – such as a ‘Federated Network on DSA’ involving CSIRO, NCST, ACLEP, DAFF and all relevant State and Territory agencies.

6.             Further, development of a ‘Knowledge Centre for DSA’ would facilitate the capture and free availability of lessons learnt, experience and technical information.

7.             ACLEP has a role in supporting the development of collaborative pilot projects in DSA in each state/territory that meet both state and national needs to ensure that DSA is advanced across the country, thereby improving jurisdictional capacity and creating collective national capacity, capabilities and skills.

8.             This includes development of the ‘Orange Book’ as part of NCST’s Australian Soil & Land Survey Handbook Series.