A digital database that provides a detailed description of soils in Arkansas is being placed on the Web, county by county. So far, nine counties are available on the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station Website: http://soils.uark.edu.

The project, funded by the Experiment Station, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, is part of a larger, long-term project to digitally map soil characteristics in all 75 Arkansas counties, said Don Scott, University of Arkansas soil physicist.

“Our goal is to digitize the soil survey of Arkansas, provided by the NRCS, and present it so you can see the spatial relationships of soil, topological, land-use and geological attributes,” Scott said. “To date, we've digitized 58 of Arkansas' 75 counties.”

The geographic information system data are being provided in three formats, he said. Four books, so far, have been published in a report series for the Arkansas Delta. The latest is Soils of Clay County, Arkansas, and books are also available from the Experiment Station for Desha, Jackson and Randolph counties. The nine counties now on the web are Clay, Craighead, Greene, Independence, Lee, Mississippi, Randolph, Saint Francis and Washington counties.

The survey information is also available on compact disks, Arkansas Digital Soil Atlas, each featuring a specific county as the data become available.

The maps identify soils by location. They identify potential wetlands and show drainage, soil pH and other characteristics important to agriculture. They also use satellite data to show how land is being used, down to a 100-foot by 100-foot square.

The Web and CD formats can scale down to show individual fields and can overlay information from one map onto another.

“It identifies prime farmland, showing what soils are present that are of value for specific crops,” Scott said. “City and county planners and engineer will find it useful when planning for highway and other construction projects.

“The information is geo-referenced,” he said, “so someone can give us the global positioning system coordinates for a field they're interested in, and we can pull out that field and give them the information they want. This information is available to anyone who wants it.”

The basic soil survey data from the NRCS is digitized in the soil physics laboratory at the University of Arkansas, said Marty McKimmey, research specialist.

Completed maps are sent to the university's Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies for online storage and to NRCS to verify the illustrated information. Finally, it is sent to the National Cartographic Laboratory at Fort Worth.

“It's a lot of work, but it's a task we enjoy because it helps us understand the spatial distribution of the soils and landscapes in the state,” Scott said. “And it gives Arkansas decision-makers the tools they need to make informed land-use decisions.”


Fred Miller is Science Editor for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. e-mail: fmiller@uark.edu