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Technical References

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Policy and ProcedureStack of manuals with a computer mouse in front of them.

Technical Soil Services Handbook - operational and procedural policy and guidance for technical soil services within NRCS.

National Soil Survey Handbook - policy, definitions, and procedures for conducting soil survey.

Soil Survey Manual - major principles and practices for soil surveys.

Soil Change Guide - Procedures for Soil Survey and Resource Inventory - designed for soil survey, vegetation, and ecological site or unit inventory work in order to help soil scientists and other inventory specialists collect interpretable data about soil change.

National Ecological Site Handbook - standards, guidelines, definitions, policies, responsibilities, and procedures for conducting the collaborative process of ecological site description (ESD) development.

Land-Capability Classification (Ag Handbook 210; 1961) (PDF; 782 KB) - Since soil surveys are based on all of the characteristics of soils that influence their use and management, interpretations are needed for each of the many uses. Among these interpretations the Land Capability Classification is one of the most important. It groups soils into capability units, subclasses, and classes. This grouping serves as an introduction of the soil map to farmers, other land users, land use planners, people in agribusiness, elected officials and others. The grouping explains the limitations and hazards for a specific agricultural use.

Technical Notes - specific technical subjects for soil scientists.
 — Soil Survey Technical Notes
 — Hydric Soils Technical Notes
 — Soil Quality Technical Notes
 — Soil Quality - Agronomy Technical Notes
 — Soil Quality - Urban Technical Notes
 — Soil Quality - Soil Biology Technical Notes



Soil Taxonomy - principal reference to soil classification.

Keys to Soil Taxonomy - taxonomic keys for field classification.

WRB Teaching Materials


USDA Agriculture Handbook 296: Land Resource Regions and Major Land Resource Areas

Land Resource Regions and Major Land Resource Areas of the United States, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Basin (Ag Handbook 296) - This publication describes 28 land resource regions and the physiography, geology, climate, water, soils, biological resources, and land use in 267 major land resource areas in the United States, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Basin.


Field Guides

Field Book for Describing and Sampling Soils  - standards for observing and recording soil and site characteristics.

Field Guide to Classify Biological Soil Crusts for Ecological Site Evaluation (PDF; 1.66 MB)

  • This field guide was written by Dr. Nicole Pietrasiak, now with John Carroll University. Biological soil crusts (also known as microbiotic, cryptobiotic, cryptogamic, microphytic soil crusts, or, for short, biocrusts) are crucial components of terrestrial ecosystems. It provides a dichotomous key with details, explanations, and illustrations for biocrust community types. It is best aligned with conditions in areas such as the California Coastal Plain, Southern California Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Southern Nevada Basin and Range, Mojave Desert, and the Lower Colorado Desert.

    Dr. Peitrasiak’s work was supported by the NRCS and is being posted for field use and professional evaluation.  Please send any comments to the National Leader for Soil Survey Standards, currently

Field Indicators of Hydric Soils, version 8.2, 2018 (PDF; 14.3 MB)


Soil Survey Office Laboratory References

Soil Survey Field and Laboratory Methods Manual (SSIR 51), version 2.0 (1-31-14; PDF; 10.3 MB)

Soil Survey Field and Laboratory Methods Manual (SSIR 51), version 1.0, obsolete. (11-2-09; PDF; 8.8 MB)

Soil Survey Office Laboratory Safety Guide, version 3.0 (January 2022; PDF; 290 KB)

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and recommended chemical disposal procedure (10-23-09; PDF; 3.2 MB)


Laboratory Methods and Information

Lab Methods Manual (SSIR 42) - soil laboratory methodology and reference for the laboratory analyst.

Soil Survey Laboratory Information Manual (SSIR 45) - Companion reference to the Laboratory Methods Manual, SSIR No. 42. Sampling methodology, descriptions of KSSL data sheets, and other information to help users of lab data.

A Routine Laboratory Method to Determine Phosphorus Availability, Capacity, and Release Characteristics for Soils (SSIR 55) (PDF; 1.1 MB)

Testing Methods for Phosphorus and Organic Matter

Soil Sample Submission Protocol for the KSSL (11-29-16; PDF; 1.61 MB) - Documentation and procedures necessary for KSSL sample submission.

  • KSSL Sample Submission Workbook (8-30-21; XLSM; 305 KB) – Submit one workbook for each pedon in the sampling project.
  • KSSL Project Sheet (8-30-21; XLSX; 24 KB) – Provides contact information for the sampling project. Submit one Project Sheet for each project.

Soil Archive Subsampling Guidelines for the National Soil Survey Center (NSSC) and Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory (KSSL) (12-2-21; PDF; 435 KB)

Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory Request for Assistance


Geomorphic Description System

These documents provide a descriptive method and a technical guide for applying and understanding geomorphic and geologic concepts and terms for soil inventory in the USA National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS) Program.

Geomorphic Description System, version 5.0 (PDF; 37.5 MB)

Glossary of Landform and Geologic Terms (Part 629 of the National Soil Survey Handbook) General Information and Exhibits


Geophysical Investigations

Dr. Jim Doolittle and Wes Tuttle, retired soil scientists, produced many trip reports on ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic induction (EMI).  These trip reports document the development of both GPR and EMI and associated technologies in soil surveys, soil investigations, and archaeological and engineering projects. A majority of the reports have been sorted by Activity (GPR or EMI), Fiscal Year (1983 to 2018), International, and States.


Installing Monitoring Wells in Soils

This document provides general guidance on how to install and use piezometers and water-table wells to investigate soil water regimes under conditions commonly encountered in Soil Survey and hydropedology studies.

Installing Monitoring Wells in Soils, version 1.0 (PDF; 1.9 MB)

The file below is a bibliography of publications from Wet Soils Monitoring Projects across the United States.

Bibliography (PDF; 70 KB)



Excel Pedon Description Forms

Excel Ecological Site Inventory (ESI) Forms

Excel Technical Soil Services Form

Printable Pedon Description Form, SOI-232 (PDF; 80 KB)


National Soil Information System (NASIS)


NASIS Metadata


Land Use (Title 310)

National Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) Handbook (PDF; 11.0 MB) – This handbook explains the preparation and use of the LESA system. It was developed to meet the requirements of the Farmland Protection Policy Act. The Land Evaluation (LE) part of LESA is combined with the site assessment (SA) part of LESA to determine the total value for a specific site for agriculture. The higher the total value of LESA, the higher the capabilities of that site for agricultural.  The LESA system can help units of government meet the following two overall objectives: (1) facilitate identification and protection of important agricultural land, and (2) assist in implementing farmland protection policies. LESA utilizes soil survey information and interpretations, and planning concepts and principles. It can be used to facilitate decision making by State and local planners, landholders, developers, and governing officials.

Red Tart Cherry Site Inventory for Grand Traverse County, Michigan (PDF; 9.63 MB) – This document explains how the local Land Evaluation (LE) committee established the soil, topography, and climate requirements to designate Unique Farmland and the LE numerical values for local Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA). It includes discussion of facilities to process the cherries for market. The 7CFR657.5(b) defines the prerequisites for designating soil map units as unique farmland.


Other References

NSSC SharePoint (authorized personnel only)

ECM Soils Document Manager (authorized personnel only)

National Commodity Crop Productivity Index 3.0 (NCCPI 3.0) User Guide (PDF; 17.7 MB) -- Describes the methodology and logic of the NCCPI model.

  • NCCPI maps (hosted by the Geospatial Research Unit)

Microsoft Access -- Guide to Access for soil scientists.

Glossaries of Soil-Related Terms

Glossary of Soil Survey Terms (PDF; 569 KB); USDA–NRCS

Glossary of Landform and Geologic Terms (NSSH 629) General Information and Exhibits; USDA–NRCS

Soil Health Glossary; USDA–NRCS

Soil Map Development Glossary (NSSH 647) General Information and Exhibits; USDA–NRCS

Glossary of Terms Used in Hydric Soils Criteria; USDA–NRCS

Glossary of National Range and Pasture Handbook; USDA–NRCS

Glossary of National Forestry Manual (RTF; 122 KB); USDA–NRCS

Soil Quality Glossary; USDA–Forest Service

Interagency Ecological Site Handbook for Rangelands (Page 48) (PDF; 2.2 MB); USDI-USDA

Glossary of Soil Science Terms; Soil Science Society of America