Australian Soil Resource Information System
Themes - Atlas of Australian Soils

Atlas of Australian Soils

Digital Atlas of Australian Soils
Interpretations, reports and look-up tables

Atlas of Australian Soils

The Atlas of Australian Soils (Northcote et al, 1960-68) was compiled by CSIRO in the 1960's to provide a consistent national description of Australia's soils. It comprises a series of ten maps and associated explanatory notes, compiled by K.H. Northcote and others. The maps are published at a scale of 1:2,000,000, but the original compilation was at scales from 1:250,000 to 1:500,000.

Mapped units in the Atlas are soil landscapes, usually comprising a number of soil types. The explanatory notes include descriptions of soils landscapes and component soils. Soil classification for the Atlas is based on the Factual Key.

The Factual Key (Northcote 1979) was the most widely used soil classification scheme prior to the Australian Soil Classification (Isbell 2002). It dates from 1960 and was essentially based on a set of about 500 profiles largely from south-eastern Australia. It is an hierarchical scheme with 5 levels, the most detailed of which is the principal profile form (PPF). Most of the keying attributes are physical soil characteristics, and can be determined in the field.

Digital atlas of Australian Soils

In 1991, a digital version of the Atlas was created by the Bureau of Rural Science from scanned tracings of the published hardcopy maps. The Digital Atlas of Australian Soils is available as a shapefile.  Additionally, there is a reliability map available, with a descriptive legend.  The source of the reliability data is unknown.

Download the Digital Atlas of Australian Soils (29 MB)

Download includes:

  • Atlas of Australian Soils spatial dataset (soilAtlas2M.shp - ESRI shapefile)
  • Metadata statement (soilAtlas2M_Metadata.doc)
  • Explanatory notes (explanatoryNotes.txt)
  • List of the five most dominant PPFs per map unit (muppf5.txt (top 5 PPF)

Download the Digital Atlas of Australian Soils reliability data (1 MB)

Download includes:

  • Atlas of Australian Soils reliability spatial dataset (soilAtlas2M_Reliability.shp - ESRI shapefile)
  • Explanatory notes (soilAtlas2M_Reliability.txt)


Metadata is provided in the ANZLIC2.0 metadata standard, as a Microsoft Word document. Reports and caveats specific to interpretations are contained within the relevant data downloads.

Download the Atlas of Australian Soils metadata (48 KB)

Interpretations, Reports and look-up tables

Interpretations of the mapping units have led to the development of look-up tables for the atlas.  It is important to note the many caveats attached to these.  Tables are supplied as ascii, comma delimited.  Care must be taken when joining/linking the tables to the data, due to the use of mixed case in mapping unit names.  Microsoft Access can not discern the difference between “m” and “M”.  ESRI software (originally written for UNIX) is able to do this match via the join utility.

  1. PPF interpretations (McKenzie and Hook, 1992)

    The first set of interpretions of soil properties for the dominant soil of each landscape. Soil permeability, water holding capacity, texture, reaction trend, nutrient response and depth characteristics are assigned to relative classes. Report and many caveats are included.

    Download PPF interpretations (McKenzie and Hook, 1992) (1 MB)
  2. Australian Soil Classification mapping (Ashton and McKenzie, 2001)

    Atlas ASC map

    A table that converts the Atlas of Australian Soils mapping units to an Australian Soil Classification soil order was compiled to aid the production of Concepts and rationale of the Australian Soil Classification (1997). Caveats and colours included.

    Download ASC conversion (16 KB)
  3. PPF interpretations (McKenzie et al, 2000)

    McKenzie et al (2000) compiled tables estimating typical ranges for soil properties associated with each principal profile form (PPF) of the Factual Key. These tables were intended for use with the Atlas of Australian Soils, to provide estimates of specific soil properties for each map-unit.

    Interpretations for each soil type were based on the range observed in approximately 7000 soil profiles held within the CSIRO National Soil Database, with ancillary data from Northcote et al. (1975). The systematic structure of the Factual Key makes interpolation between soil classes relatively straightforward. Soil properties were estimated using a simple two-layer model of the soil consisting of an A and B horizon. The following properties have been estimated for both the A and B horizon: horizon thickness, texture, clay content, bulk density, grade of pedality and saturated hydraulic conductivity. The estimates of thickness, texture, bulk density and pedality have been used to estimate parameters that describe the soil water retention curve - these allow calculation of the available water capacity for each layer. Interpretations relating to the complete soil profile are presence or absence of calcrete and gross nutrient status.

    Caveats on the use of these interpretative tables to predict soil properties spatially are discussed by McKenzie et al (2000). A very large proportion of soil variation within a region occurs over short distances and cannot be resolved by reconnaissance scale maps. The qualitative nature of the Atlas and restrictions associated with the classification scheme and structure of the soil-landscape model impose further constraints. Technical reported included.

    Download PPF interpretations (McKenzie et al, 2000) (1 MB)


Ashton, L.J. and McKenzie, N.J. (2001). Conversion of the Atlas of Australian Soils to the Australian Soil Classification, CSIRO Land and Water (unpublished).

Isbell, R. F. (2002). The Australian Soil Classification. Revised Edition. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Isbell, R.F., McDonald, W.S., Ashton, L.J (1997) Concepts and rationale of the Australian Soil Classification. ACLEP, CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.

McKenzie, N. J. and Hook, J.  (1992).  Interpretations of the Atlas of Australian Soils.  Consulting Report to the Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN).  CSIRO Division of Soils Technical Report 94/1992.

McKenzie, N.J., Jacquier, D.W., Ashton L.J. and Cresswell, H.P. (2000) Estimation of Soil Properties Using the Atlas of Australian Soils. CSIRO Land and Water Technical Report 11/00.

National Resource Information Centre (NRIC) (1991). The Digitial Atlas of Australian Soils – scanned tracings. (unpublished).

Northcote, K. H. with Beckmann, G. G., Bettenay, E., Churchward, H. M., Van Dijk, D. C., Dimmock, G. M., Hubble, G. D., Isbell, R. F., McArthur, W. M., Murtha, G. G., Nicolls, K. D., Paton, T. R., Thompson, C. H., Webb, A. A. and Wright, M. J. (1960-1968). Atlas of Australian Soils, Sheets 1 to 10. With explanatory data (CSIRO Aust. and Melbourne University Press: Melbourne).

Northcote, K.H. (1979). A Factual Key for the Recognition of Australian Soils. 4th edn., Rellim Technical Publishers, Glenside, SA.


Digital Atlas of Australian Soils (29 MB)

Digital Atlas of Australian Soils reliability dataset (1 MB)

Atlas of Australian Soils metadata (48 KB)

PPF interpretations (McKenzie and Hook, 1992) (1 MB)

Australian Soil Classification conversion (Ashton and McKenzie, 2001) (16 KB)

PPF interpretations (McKenzie et al, 2000) (1 MB)

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Last updated: April 18, 2013