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News Release

Official Web Soil Survey Available - Soil Science Annual Data Refreshes in October 2018

Madison, Wis. – October 1, 2018 – The National Cooperative Soil Survey Program is an endeavor of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other federal agencies, state and local governments, and other cooperators. It provides a systematic study of the soils in a given area, including the classification, mapping, and interpretation of the soils. Soil types are classified from physical properties, drawing heavily on the principles of pedology, geology, and geomorphology. The entire Official Web Soil Survey Database (WSS) will be refreshed to ensure that updated official data is available in October of each year for use in implementing national programs affecting landowners and managers. Interpretation criteria will be updated for many national interpretations.

There is one new Wisconsin Interpretation:

  • Soil Suitability for Wild Lupine and Karner Blue Butterfly (WI) —The Karner blue butterfly (KBB) is a federally listed endangered species present in small patches across the North Central and North Eastern U.S. The KBB usually occupies open barrens, savannas, and prairies that contain wild lupine. This plant is widespread in Wisconsin’s central and northwest sands. The pale green caterpillar of the KBB feeds exclusively on the leaves of wild lupine.

There are eight new national reports or interpretations:

  • Suitability for Aerobic Soil Organism —This interpretation assesses the soil’s suitability as habitat for aerobic soil organisms. Soil is the habitat for a wide variety of organisms, ranging from microscopic viruses, bacteria, archaea, fungi, and protozoa to micro- and meso-fauna (such as nematodes, mites, and springtails) to macrofauna (such as earthworms, centipedes, and beetles). A healthy soil is a living system that supports an abundant and diverse biological community. This system aids crop production by providing key services and functions, such as nutrient cycling and protection against disease and environmental stress.
  • Agricultural Organic Soil Subsidence —This interpretation indicates the rate at which organic soils are likely to subside. Organic soils used in agricultural production are subject to a loss of organic material. This loss is due to oxidation caused by above normal microbial activity resulting from excessive water drainage, soil disturbance, or extended drought. Soil shrinkage and compaction due to dewatering is considered to be secondary. Any drawdown resulting in water levels below soil surface can result in increased subsidence rates.
  • Concentration of Salts: Soil Surface —This interpretation indicates soils that are likely to have concentrations of salts at the soil surface. Excess salts can concentrate when precipitation is sufficient to move salts within the soil but insufficient to move the salts out of the soil. Salts move downward with percolating precipitation, from the generally convex recharge areas of the landscape to the generally concave discharge areas. Excessive salt concentration in the soil surface layer is detrimental to the germination and growth of crops.
  • Organic Matter Depletion —This interpretation indicates the propensity of the individual soil properties to influence organic matter degradation. Soil organic matter is the foundation for healthy and productive soils. For organic matter to accumulate in soil, the processes that synthesize organic matter generally need to be greater than the processes that destroy organic matter.
  • Soil Surface Sealing —This interpretation indicates the degree of susceptibility to surface sealing. Surface sealing is the orientation and packing of dispersed soil particles that result from the physical breakup of soil aggregates, mostly due to raindrop impact. It can lead to the formation of surface crusts. Surface seals decrease infiltration rates, reduce the amount of available water to plants, diminish natural recharge of aquifers, increase runoff, and decrease crop yields.
  • Catastrophic Event, Large Animal Mortality, Burial—This interpretation indicates where to bury deceased livestock resulting from of a large-scale natural disaster, such as a hurricane.
  • Catastrophic Event, Large Animal Mortality, Incinerate—This interpretation indicates where to incinerate deceased livestock resulting from a large-scale natural disaster, such as a hurricane.
  • Road Construction/Maintenance (Natural Surface)This interpretation assesses the suitability of soils for Forest Service single-lane system roads that are built to specification with a natural surface. Standard specifications include a grade between 2 and 8 percent, with segments up to 12 percent. Roads are designed to cross the slope and constructed with a cut-and-fill design to maintain grade.

There are four new regional interpretations:

  • Displacement Hazard. —This interpretation predicts the hazard of soil displacement from operations of ground-based equipment for forest harvesting and site preparation. Displacement is the horizontal movement of soil caused by scraping or machine gouging. It can remove the organic forest litter and upper portions of the mineral surface layer, thereby reducing plant nutrient availability and water-holding capacity. The result is a loss of site productivity for forest vegetation.
  • Puddling Hazard. —This interpretation predicts the risk of soil puddling due to operation of ground-based equipment for forest harvesting and site preparation. Puddling is the loss of soil structure resulting from the squeezing and churning of soil by tires or tracks of heavy equipment. Soil particles become dispersed in water, and after they have dried and settled, the smaller particles form a crust on the surface. Soil puddling reduces porosity and increases bulk density.
  • Compactability Risk. —This interpretation predicts the soil’s susceptibility to compaction from the operation of ground-based equipment for forest planting, harvesting, and site preparation. Typically, the soil must be moist to be compacted. Compaction reduces mostly the amount of large pores in the soil by damaging the soil structure. This adversely affects the soil since large pores are the most effective at transmitting water and air. Compaction also increases the soil strength, which can limit root penetration and growth.
  • Windthrow Hazard. —This interpretation predicts the hazard of trees overturning from wind. Windthrow is one type of wind damage and is defined as the uprooting of a tree by pivoting on the outer edge of a mass of soil, rock, and roots. Rooting depth contributes significantly to the risk of windthrow. Wetness also contributes. The weight of the soil over the roots can act as a stabilizing anchor.

Individuals interested in knowing when surveys are updated should visit the WSS and click on the Download Soils Data tab, then choose the State they are interested in. Individuals interested in soil related topics may subscribe to topics through GovDelivery. Individuals can also e-mail inquiries to for assistance with GovDelivery and the WSS.

Questions about soil data in Wisconsin should be directed to the Wisconsin State Soil Scientist. For more information on the Web Soil Survey, see our report Soil Survey: Uses & Limitations or visit the Wisconsin NRCS Soils Webpage.


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