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Protect Your Investments in the Soil: USDA’s Modernized Lab Data Mart Website Provides User-Friendly, State-of-the-Art Data

By Heather Emmons


Understanding your specific soil and its dynamic properties, which can change over time due to human impacts, land management, and climate change, can be invaluable. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS), has a team of soil and data scientists who are bringing customers the best soil information using the newest technology through the Lab Data Mart.  

The newly updated Lab Data Mart website, also known as the National Cooperative Lab Characterization Database, brings valuable soil data to the public’s fingertips through a user-friendly, state-of-the-art interactive map. It includes data estimating soil properties such as organic carbon, clay content, calcium carbonate equivalent, and pH, which is beneficial in soil health assessments. Architects, educators, engineers, farmers, landowners, researchers, scientists, and anyone looking to learn more about their soil can access the latest data to make more informed decisions and reduce potential soil risks and hazards.  

The Lab Data Mart includes mid-infrared (MIR) soil spectroscopy data gathered during soil analysis at the NRCS’ Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory, one of the largest libraries of such data in the world. MIR soil spectroscopy uses the interactions between soil matter and infrared radiation to estimate soil properties.   

The Lab Data Mart’s interactive map also links to a national database of soil characterization data, allowing users to locate soil samples and “pedons” analyzed in the lab. A pedon is the smallest unit of soil, containing all the soil horizons of a particular soil type. The customized data in the Lab Data Mart is downloadable to multiple applications and web services and is continuously updated as more sampled soil sites are added or re-visited.  

How Can the Lab Data Mart Help You? 

  • Determining carbon credits or improving carbon sequestration: The data can help you determine how much carbon is currently in the top 12 inches of soil and decide whether you want to sequester more carbon and consider methods and management practices to do so. 
  • Leasing or buying land: The data may help determine if your planned management practices will work; and if not, what could be the added cost to do things differently.  Understanding the mineralogy of your soil can help you determine if it requires soil amendments, a new tool or piece of equipment to accomplish your goals, or a change to what you farm or your tillage operation. 
  • Taking a more systematic view of your land: Whether working with an NRCS conservation planner or on your own, the data helps you know more about your soil and ties into how you look at the whole ecological site

Who Can Help You Use Lab Data Mart and Help You Understand Your Data?  

NRCS State Soil Scientists and their staff, as well as technical service providers, can assist with obtaining the data in Lab Data Mart and understanding it. Contact NRCS at your local USDA Service Center for help and more information. 

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