About S-map and S-map Online

S-map is a new digital soil spatial information system for New Zealand. It is being created as part of the government-funded Spatial Information programme run by Landcare Research. S-map Online is the web delivery service for S-map and has been developed and is operated by Landcare's Informatics team.


When complete across New Zealand, S-map will for the first time provide consistent and comprehensive national soil data layers to support applications at local, and regional to national scales. It builds on previous soil mapping by filling gaps with new mapping, and upgrading the information content and associated database to meet a new national standard. In time, S-map will have national coverage and contain predominantly new digital data at a scale that resolves soil variation on hill slopes (nominally 1:50 000 scale).

All outputs will have to meet specific S-map standards, which specify the soil attributes that are to be mapped and their level of description, including a measure of uncertainty. The primary map layer is soil classes, i.e. delineated areas that are labelled with the soil family name. Each soil family is defined as a unique combination of attributes (NZSC classification, parent material, rock type, dominant texture and permeability class). Soil classes are further characterised as siblings according to their depth to rock class, stoniness, land type, drainage, texture (more detailed), functional horizons and miscellaneous variant information. The uncertainty of each of these family and sibling attribute classes is specified.

Associated with the soil class layer will be additional map layers of fundamental and derived soil properties. The fundamental soil properties are depth (diggability), depth to slowly permeable layer, rooting depth, rooting barrier, horizon thickness, stoniness, clay and sand content. They are developed from sample information and expert knowledge. The derived soil layers are each based on a model (or pedo-transfer function). Some models are simple lookup tables that depend only on the soil class. Others combine various soil, land use, vegetation, climate or topographic attributes in a mathematical formula. Derived layers will include available water (mm), macroporosity, water retention, bulk density, total carbon, total nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, cation exchange capacity, pH, and phosphorus retention.

You can find out more about S-map in the following paper:

Lilburne L, Hewitt A, Webb TH, Carrick S 2004. S-map: a new soil database for New Zealand. Proceedings of SuperSoil 2004: 3rd Australian New Zealand Soils Conference, Sydney, Australia.

and on the S-map project site at http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/databases/smap.asp


Principal funding is by Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI; formerly the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology) contract to the Spatial Information programme.

Within this programme, S-map is being integrated with the related National Soils Database (a database of soil profile analyses) and other spatial datasets including the NZ Land Resource Inventory and the Fundamental Soil Data Layers (FSL).

MSI funding alone will not be sufficient to provide the needed national coverage in reasonable time. For this reason cooperative arrangements are being sought with other agencies to advance the work programme.


Groups with a particular interest in new soil data include:

  • Territorial authorities for policy development, monitoring programmes and consent rules
  • Rural servicing agencies and farm managers – to provide information for management, planning, and standards certification
  • Science research programmes in which soil data underpin modelling and scaling up of research results, e.g., development of hydrological models in NIWA
  • Users of LENZ – to improve the underpinning data in areas where data support is poor, and to provide a sound basis for future revision.


The work is divided into two major land areas:

  • Lowlands, dominantly flat to rolling land. Landforms are of such low relief that digital elevation models (based on current 20-m contour data) cannot be used for soil modelling. Soil mapping uses conventional methods, based on air-photo interpretation and free-survey techniques.
  • Uplands, dominantly hill and mountain terrain. Relief allows application of soil–landscape modelling based on digital elevation models and other spatial information. The actual modelling used will depend on the land system and the sampling cost and availability of data. The predominant technique will be to derive soil distribution rules from available data, literature and new sampling, and to apply these to modelled landform land-elements.

Work plan

S-map is currently being extended in the following areas:

  • Environment Waikato territorial area
  • Environment Canterbury territorial area
  • Hawkes Bay territorial area

This work is funded by the relevant regional councils.  Further areas are added according to stakeholder needs and funding.


May 2017

  • New mapping has been added in Canterbury (Lake Heron, Upper Selwyn and Rangitata terraces). Minor corrections to soil attributes and soil names have been made throughout NZ. The need for a ‘Level1’ or ‘Level2’ suffix in the sibling name used in OVERSEER has been removed. A new NZ soil classification layer has also been added which colours soils on soil order.

October 2016

  • The website has been completely revised.  It now uses Silverstripe for content management and includes a user registration capability so that we can have a better understanding of who our users are and can better understand and meet their needs.  The underlying mapping services and functions have not been changed. 

September 2016

  • New mapping in the Waikato (Waipa) and in Northern Hawke's Bay (Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu catchments - 'TANK') has been added.

June 2016

  • As a consequence of S-map data now being directly available in the OVERSEER® Nutrient Budget model we have removed the soils data required for OVERSEER from the factsheets. The OVERSEER® Nutrient Budget now just requires you to provide the sibling name shown on the factsheet. When using OVERSEER just
    • ​Select the link to S-map
    • Under S-map sibling data enter: <<sibling name>> e.g. Keepa_2a.1

February 2016

  • New mapping in the Lake Heron area of Canterbury has been added along with a small area in the Gisborne region. Full soil moisture data for input into OVERSEER is now provided for all Canterbury soils (UPDATE: with the changes of June 2016, this data has been removed).
  • Also for those wanting soils data for the Canterbury Region, if you click on a location in Canterbury for which there is currently no s-map data, the soil information pop up window now provides a link to a new website, the Interim Canterbury Soils website, which has interim soil data. Soil factsheets can be obtained for this interim soil data.

December 2015

  • License changed from Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 New Zealand License (BY-ND) to Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 New Zealand License (BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ).

June 2015

  • New/revised mapping in south Canterbury and in the Hawkes Bay has been added.
  • A few minor corrections have been made to some of the pedo-transfer functions.
  • A new version of the report functionality, 'Statistics', has been implemented. The figures provided in the tables now take account of all siblings in a polygon and not just the dominant one. See 'Getting Started' for information on how to use this feature.
  • Along with Statistics you can get a list of all the siblings within an area, the area in hectres they make up and the percentage proportion of that area.

April 2015

  • The factsheets have been updated to reflect the soil properties users should enter into OVERSEER Nutrient Budgets v6.2.
  • A description of the hydrological pedotransfer functions can be found here.
  • Minor corrections to some of the hydrological pedotransfer functions has resulted in some changed properties for a few soils.

November 2014

  • New areas in the Auckland region have been added.
  • A few minor corrections have been made to some of the pedo-transfer functions.
  • The Overseer page on the factsheets has been altered to provide additional soil properties where they are available. These values enable a more accurate description of the soil in Overseer.

February 2013

  • Minor changes made to the user interface.
  • Moved whole service to a more stable production infrastructure.
  • Minimum scale at which Smap boundaries can be viewed changed from 1:100,000 to 1:250,000.
  • Soil information pop up window now re-sizable.

July 2014

  • New areas that have been added to S-map Online include the lowlands in Otago/Southland, Hanmer Basin, Greymouth-Hokitika, and Cheviot to Kaikoura. There is also new mapping in the Manawatu and around Otaki.
  • The Profile Available Water (PAW) pedo-transfer function has been further improved. This has resulted in revised PAW estimates for all soils, and changes to some risk categories.
  • The Overseer fields on the factsheets have been updated. The s-map reference name now has an additional character e.g. Raka_3.1 is now Raka_3a.1. Various other minor corrections have been made to the data and factsheets.

June 2014

  • Area report visualizations have been disabled.
  • The Help pop-up window now only appears once in a session.
  • It is now possible to make the mapping window full screen. Use the 'Toggle full screen' button in the top menu bar.
  • Made various user interface changes so that S-map Online now gives a better experience for tablet users. (Note: S-map Online can be used on smart phones but there are known usability problems.)

December 2013

  • S-map database updated. S-map coverage has been extended to include new areas in Canterbury, Waikato and the Hawkes Bay. The new mapping in the Hawkes Bay has involved developing some new Digital Soil Mapping (DSM) techniques applied to a new 5 m Digital Elevation Model (from GeoEye stereo imagery). Various minor corrections have also been made to soil polygon labels throughout New Zealand.
  • You can now obtain an indication of the area of each feature (class) in the selected layer using the report feature.  You can obtain reports either for the whole of the map currently being viewed or for an area you define (draw) on the map. More information on this new capability can be found on the 'Getting Started' page.
  • For those land areas for which s-map data is not yet available, the Soil Information feature presents links to Soil Order and Drainage maps in Landcare Research's Soils portal. The source for this data is the pre S-map Fundamental Soil Layers.

July 2013

  • S-map coverage has been extended to include new areas in the Gisborne, Waikato, Canterbury, Auckland and West Coast regions. Some of the Bay of Plenty (Mamaku Plateau) has been updated. Various minor corrections have been made to soil polygon labels throughout New Zealand. Factsheet terms are now linked to the Glossary (which has been extended).
  • A major update has been made to the way that Profile Available Water (PAW) is calculated. This has resulted in significant changes in PAW, particularly increases in PAW estimates for soils formed from pumice and volcanic ash. Some of these changes are so large that they significantly alter estimates of soil water uptake and drainage from these soils. This may affect consents for water that are based on PAW, irrigation demand calculations, nutrient loss modelling, and other risk assessment or environmental impact studies. Further information on this change can be found in the FAQ.
  • Changes have also been made to S-map online so that it now runs properly in Internet Explorer 10.


Known Problems

  • Transparency slider does not work correctly in older versions on Internet Explorer. This is a function of how older versions of Internet Explorer handle images. Solution: Upgrade to IE 8/9, or better still install a browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.



This site makes use of Silk Icons. Silk Icons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

S-map Online is built on a software platform made up of open source components including Ubuntu Server, Postgres/GIS, MapServer, Mapcache, Berkeley DB, GeoTools, Silverstripe CMS, GDAL, GEOS, GeoExt, Openlayers, D3, and Mapfish Print.

Visit the OS Geospatial Foundation for more information about open-source geospatial software.


Last updated: 18 October 2016