Monday, July 16, 2012

What soil types are on my property? Yeah, there’s an app for that...

The foundation of making sound decisions on how to best manage your land is to know what type of soil is underfoot. With the free SoilWeb app from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on your GPS-equipped Android or Apple smartphone, you can find out in a manner of seconds.

SoilWeb was developed by NRCS soil scientist Dylan Beaudette while he was a graduate student at the University of California-Davis. The university’s California Soil Resource Lab offers web-based access to NRCS Soil Survey Geographic data. The app, however, offers the advantage of obtaining the data in the field, based on your location.

After downloading and installing the app on a friend’s Android smartphone, we visited several sites around Boone County. In each case, once the phone’s GPS had acquired enough satellites, SoilWeb reported the soil type and showed a graphic depicting the soil horizons. Tapping on the graphic led me to a detailed description of its physical and chemical properties. Tapping on the soil name led me soil taxonomy, land classification, hydraulic and erosion ratings, geomorphology, plant associations, and other information.

As with many other apps, SoilWeb depends on having an Internet or cell phone connection. The app also depends on the accuracy of your phone’s GPS. A slider bar labeled “Precision” at the top of the main SoilWeb screen lets you set accuracy anywhere from 1 to 1,150 meters. Most smartphone GPS receivers are not capable of 1-meter accuracy; my friend’s certainly wasn’t. When I set the slider at 500 meters, SoilWeb usually returned a result.  At less than 100 meters, it often did not. Geographically associated soils are listed in the series descriptions; most of which have links to their descriptions. You can search for any US soil series by name.

So, the next time you are walking about on your land and want to know something about what lies beneath your feet, the answer may be at your fingertips!
(from Green Horizons, Vol 16 No 3)

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