Soil Science Australia

A not-for-profit that serves as the non-governmental peak body for soils and soil scientists across Australia. Our mission is to promote the importance of soil in the Australian environment, build a strong and collaborative soil science community, influence policy development, as well as advance the professional capability of our members. We will achieve this by: Communicating and advocating for the importance of soil with key stakeholders. Developing and supporting professional standards of practise in soil science. Enhancing expertise and providing professional development services accessible to all. Supporting educational opportunities for young Australians through the development of soil science activities and teaching material for incorporation in the Australian curriculum. Recognising excellence in soil science within our membership base and in the wider community. Providing value to our members and ensuring our long term sustainability.

Company details

Po Box 55 , Bridgewater , SA 5155 Australia

Locations Served

Business Type:
Nonprofit organization (NPO)
Industry Type:
Soil and Groundwater - Soil and Groundwater Science and Research
Market Focus:
Nationally (across the country)
Year Founded:
1957

In 1955, a resolution “that the Australian Society of Soil Science be inaugurated from this meeting” was recorded in Melbourne. The following year the first official meeting of the Society took place in Queensland, with a Federal Executive and presidents from the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian and Victorian branches forming the Federal Council. In later years the Executive expanded with the addition of the Western Australian branch in 1957, the Riverina branch in 1962 and most recently the Tasmanian branch in 2008.

The objectives of the Society were:

  • the advancement of soil science and studies therein with particular reference to Australia, and
  • to provide a link between soil scientists and kindred bodies within Australia and between them and other similar organisations in other countries.

Membership was initially restricted to people engaged in the scientific study of the soil and has grown steadily from to 147 members in 1957 to more than 800 members in 2017.

The first issue of the newsletter Soils News, was published in January 1957. Soils News continued to be published twice yearly until 1996 when the name changed to Profile.

Dr J A Prescott

The first honorary life membership was awarded to Dr JA Prescott. The Federal Council established a Student Award in 1969 and over ensuing years a range of awards have been established: the JA Prescott Medal (1972), the Soil Science Publication Medal (1979), the JK Taylor OBE Gold Medal in Soil Science (1984), the CG Stephens PhD Award in Soil Science (2003), the LJH Teakle Award (2010) and conference presentation awards.

Branches were busy during this time and hosted many activities including seminars, field trips and conferences for both members and others interested in soil science. By the early seventies several branches had conducted refresher courses and in 1974 the Society became incorporated.

The Society hosted its first world congress, the 9th International Society of Soil Science Congress, in Adelaide in 1968 with 310 papers printed, 239 papers presented and 720 delegates. In contrast, 42 years later the 19th World Congress of Soil Science returned to Australia, where in Brisbane 1914 delegates from 68 countries were treated to 343 presentations, 1227 research posters, eight keynote and 65 invited lead speakers. A commemorative stamp was produced for the first Congress and another stamp was created in 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Society.

An inaugural joint conference with the New Zealand Society of Soil Science was held in Rotorua in November 1986. This paved the way for joint national conferences every four years.

In 2011 the name Soil Science Australia was adopted as the public name. In 1998 the first Executive Officer was appointed and in 2010 the then Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley AC accepted the invitation to become the first Patron.

A significant decision was taken in 1996 to introduce the Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS) program, partly in response to the increasing demand by government authorities for certified professionals in soil and land management. Accreditation is available to members (and non-members) with requirements for accreditation listed in the Standards for Professionals in Soil Science.

Statement of Purposes and Rules

  • Soil Science Australia is incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act 1991 of the Australian Capital Territory.
  • The current Statement of Purposes and Rules was revised and agreed at the 2018 Annual General Meeting.

Soils are a vital part of the natural environment

They are very complex, with different types occuring across Australia. The different properties of soils influence the types of plants and animals that thrive on them, and the ways in which we may use them.

State Soils

Our branches each selected a State Soil - similar to having a State animal and flower

New South Wales Red Chromosol
Northern Territory Kandosol
Queensland Vertosol
South Australia Calcarosol
Tasmania Ferrosol
Victoria Mottled Brown Sodosol
Western Australia Yellow Chromosol

DOWNLOAD know your garden soil fact sheets

Know your garden soil colour
Know your garden soil texture
Know your garden soil structure and pH

Soil contains amazing species diversity

A teaspoon of soil is estimated to contain several thousand species of micro-organisms, and other invertebrates such as nematodes (round worms), annelids (earth worms), and microarthropods (springtails and mites). One square metre of soil can contain more species in it than a square kilometre of rainforest. These soil organisms play very important roles such as breaking down organic matter and providing nutrients to plants.

Clay is kind of phenomenal

Cracking clays (Smectites) crack when they dry and swell when they are wet. They can expand/contract as much as 30% during wetting and drying, which can be devastating for road and building foundations, but highly important for agricultural production.

One teaspoon of a cracking clay soil has the surface area of a football field, whereas one teaspoon of a rigid clay (kaolinite) has a surface area of only 10 to 20m².

Sporting soils

Soil science is integral to developing sporting fields and golf courses that are playable in our variable climatic conditions.

Swelling and shrinking are very important properties for cricket wickets. These properties allow the typical black cracking clays to restructure after compaction.

For example, the Adelaide Oval pitch, widely regarded as the best in the world, is made of Athelstone soil, a black cracking clay. The soil has been used since the first Test Match was played at Adelaide Oval in 1884 and legendary retired curator Les Burdett said it’s still the soil of choice, 126 years on:

From that day forward, from the history I’ve researched, it’s always come from there. In Sydney they have Bulli soil from an area called Bulli, in Melbourne they have Mary Creek soil from Mary Creek ... and in Adelaide we have Athelstone soil from Athelstone”. (see source article in the Adelaide Advertisor)

Soils and Greenhouse gases

Organic carbon (C), present in soil organic matter, is an important global carbon pool, estimated to be 1550 Gt (1 gigatonne = 100 million tonnes). The soil organic C pool (to a depth of 1 m) is approximately three times larger than the amount of C stored in vegetation and twice the amount stored in the atmosphere [1] . 

Mainly because of our dry climate, organic C stocks in Australian soils are much lower than the global average, and are estimated to be about 50 Gt [2].

Soil cultivation and soil degradation result in losses of organic carbon which is released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Agricultural soils, mainly through the use of nitrogen fertilisers, are also significant emitters of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. 

Emissions of greenhouse gas from Australian agricultural soils accounted for 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2003, or about 3% of the national greenhouse gas total emissions for that year [3].

Land clearing and overgrazing also contribute to the loss of soil carbon.

Improved soil management strategies such as revegetation, conservation cropping and reducing grazing pressure have the potential to increase the store of soil C, thereby acting as sinks for atmospheric C.

Issues affecting soils and management costs

Safeguarding the health of our soils is vital to Australia's future, from environmental, social and economic perspectives. There are many issues that affect our soils and landscapes including salinity, acidity, compaction, erosion, fertility decline and loss of biodiversity.

Managing soils appropriately is very important as the costs from degraded soils and their management can be very high and affect agricultural producers, commerce and industry, urban users, and the natural ecosystem.

Costs to the community associated with soil salinisation in Australia are very large, estimated to be in excess of $300 million dollars per year in the Murray-Darling Basin alone [4]. Salinisation occurs when the water table rises, bringing natural salts to the soil surface which can accumulate and become toxic to most plants. A primary cause of surface soil salinisation in Australia has been extensive land clearing, predominantly for agricultural purposes. This has allowed saline groundwater tables to rise, bring salt closer to the surface. In the early 2000s, 5.7 million hectares of Australia were assessed as having a high potential to develop salinity with 20,000 farms and 2 million hectares of agricultural land showed actual signs of salinity [5]. Predictions indicate that unless effective solutions are implemented, the area affected could increase to 17 million hectares by 2050, 64% of which is agricultural land. 

Soil acidity affects approximately 50 million hectares (50 per cent of Australia’s agricultural land) and about 23 million hectares of subsoil layers, mostly in Western Australia and New South Wales [6]. Soil acidification restricts options for land management, because it limits the choice of crops and vegetation to acid-tolerant species and varieties. It is relatively straightforward to reverse short-term surface soil acidification through the application of lime. However, it is much harder to reverse the problem if the acidification has advanced deeper into the soil profile, because incorporating lime at depth is more expensive.

Drainage and excavation of land, diversion of water, and climatic effects, has also resulted in exposure of acid sulfate soils in coastal and inland areas around Australia. The pyrite (sulfidic material) in these soils can oxidise to from sulfuric materials, producing severe soil acidification (pH<4). The acidity can leach to surrounding waterways, results in severe ecological and other effects. The cost for management of acid sulfate soils in Queensland is estimated at >$100 million dollars per year [7].