S-map Online FAQ

Under what license are maps, factsheets and other material available from this site licensed?

The maps, factsheets and other soil related information you can view and download from this website are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 New Zealand License (BY-NC-ND). If you are a non-commercial user and you remix, transform, or build upon material from this site but you cannot share the modified material.

I think I might be a commercial user. Can I use maps, factsheets and other material from this site?

This license allows you to use the maps, factsheets and data taken from the site for Non-Commercial purposes only.“Non-Commercial” means your use is “not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or private monetary compensation”. 

However, if you wish to use material from this site for commercial purposes, commercial licences are available. There may be a charge for using data for commercial purposes.  You also need to get our permission to share any derivative material.  Please contact us if you which to discuss commercial use of material from this site.

You will know when you are using the site under a commercial license because the maps and factsheets state the license under which you are using the site e.g. a S-map Data Use License.

Can I download S-map data to use on my PC?

Yes but only limited and generalised S-map data are available. S-map data is available on the Manaaki Whenua LRIS Portal (http://lris.scinfo.org.nz/). Search for 'S-map'. Make sure you use the most recent version of the S-map data. 

Why isn’t there national coverage for S-Map?

S-map is a substantial project that needs the financial support of many stakeholders. It is our aim to complete full coverage of New Zealand by 2020. To achieve this, we need to work with other organisations. Please contact us if you wish to fund further S-map work.

When is region X going to be completed?

We receive funding from various sources to undertake s-map mapping work. In the past this has included Envirolink funding and funding from the Regional Councils. We are researching the best way to map the soft rock hill country (initially funded by the then Ministry of Science and Innovation), so there will soon be extended coverage in a few areas. However, progress in other areas will be made only when we obtain further funding.

How often is S-map updated?

A copy of the internal S-map spatial database is posted to the S-map Online web service on a regular basis; typically twice a year. All additions or edits that have been made to the internal S-map database will be uploaded to S-map Online at this time. 

What is the accuracy of S-map?

The accuracy of S-map data varies from one location to another, and even for one location the information for some soil properties will be more accurate than for other soil properties. Accuracy depends on many factors, including the complexity of the landscape and its predictability, the quality of other useful information like a digital elevation model, aerial photos, past soil surveys, how many measured soil profiles are available, and how familiar the pedologist is with the area. We collect uncertainty information in the database but this is not available on S-map Online. This information can be made available via the LRIS Portal if required. With some soil properties we indicate the likely range of values, e.g., the range of clay % found in a sibling. We also show that a polygon often contains more than one sibling or soil type. S-map is designed for use at the 1:50,000 scale except in some areas where more detailed mapping is available.

Who do we contact if we spot an inaccuracy in maps or factsheets?

Please use the Contact Us page and provide us with the full details of the map unit or soil that you believe to be in error and with the correct information. We will check our data and update our information if appropriate.

What is the difference between the LRI, FSLs and S-map?

LRI refers to the New Zealand Land Resource Inventory, currently in its third edition. The LRI is a national database of physical land resource information. It comprises of data compiled using stereo aerial photography, published and unpublished reference material, and extensive field work. It contains an inventory of five physical factors (rock type, soil, slope, present type and severity of erosion, and vegetation) and a soil land use capability rating (LUC).

The FSLs are the Fundamental Soil Layers. They contain spatial information for 16 key attributes: slope, potential rooting depth, topsoil gravel content, proportion of rock outcrop, pH, salinity, cation exchange capacity, total carbon, phosphorus retention, flood interval, soil temperature, total profile available water, profile readily available water, drainage, and macropores (shallow and deep). These layers were generated by creating regional legends which were correlated using the New Zealand Soil Classification (NZSC), referenced to the National Soils Database (NSD) and other relevant data sources, and then linked to the soil polygons in the NZLRI.

The LRI and the FSLs are nationally complete but do not include more detailed information from soil surveys. Attribute information is described using classes and categories including classes of predefined ranges. Both can be obtained from the LRIS Portal. S-map has a finer resolution achieved by incorporating the best available spatial information from soil surveys or new mapping, and has a much wider range of soil properties. It is not yet nationally complete.

I am looking for other environmental information, where can I go?

Try using the sister service to S-map Online; Our Environment. Our Environment, a land atlas of New Zealand, is a website designed to help you learn about the natural environments of New Zealand.  Viewing maps and data, you can obtain answers to key questions about our natural environments and land resources.

What has happened to the old soil series names?

Soil taxonomy in New Zealand now has five categories (soil order, group, subgroup, family, and sibling) that have been objectively defined (see the revised Manaaki Whenua Science Series No. 3). Application of this taxonomy showed that many of the original soil series were very similar and could be merged with other series to form families. Other series were too broad in their range of properties and needed to be split to match the new taxonomic criteria. The original soil series are no longer used in S-map, although we hope to correlate series names with soil families. The new category of ‘soil family’ is now used to identify soils. The practice of using geographic names has been retained but a soil family name is suffixed with an italicised f to distinguish it from the old soil series names. Note that a soil family might be found throughout the country rather than just in its local area.

Where can I find more information on New Zealand soils?

Try the New Zealand Soils Portal, another web site provided by Manaaki Whenua. The Soils Portal not only provides access to soils databases held by Manaaki Whenua, such as the National Soils Database, Fundamental Soils Layers and Digital Soil Surveys, but also a wealth of explanatory information about current and historical soil naming schemes used in New Zealand.

What is a sibling?

A sibling is a member of a soil family. The sibling partitions soil families on the basis of unique combinations of drainage class, topsoil stoniness, soil depth, texture contrasts, and a sequence of up to six functional horizons. (Functional horizons are defined in terms of topsoil/subsoil, stoniness class, texture class, ped size and consistence. Functional horizons also distinguish soil materials derived from acidic and basic tephra.)

What is Profile Available Water (PAW)?

Please look at the Glossary to see what this is in more detail.

Can I shade in the display based on other soil properties such as Soil Texture or Topsoil Stoniness on S-map Online?

No. You can, however, for limited attributes such as texture, soil class and drainage download the data from the LRIS Portal and load it into a GIS where you can make your own customised maps.

Can I add other layers into S-map Online?


Can I maximise the size of the map I see on the screen?

Use the 'Go full screen' button in the top menu bar of the mapping application. Alternatively, on most desktop browsers there is a simple and quick way to expand your browser display with one key press. Find the key labelled F11. (You will find it on the very top row of your keyboard). F keys are normally labelled F1 through F12. Press the F11 key and the browser window will go full screen. Press F11 again to return to the normal browser window.

When I click the Create and Download Map button in the Print window, nothing happens.  What's wrong?

If nothing happens when you click the CREATE AND DOWNLOAD MAP button your web browser is probably set to block pop-up windows. To change this you either need to allow all pop-ups, or specifically allow those from http://smap.landcareresearch.org.nz.  This setting should be under Tools >> Internet Options >> Privacy in Internet Explorer, or under Tools >> Options >> Content in Firefox.

Sometimes, because of the number of users requesting PDF files at one time, print fails to work. Wait a few minutes and try again.

The Print feature is not available on smart phone devices. 

Why can't I produce maps as PDFs larger than A3 size?

It takes quite a lot of computer processing time to create maps larger than A3 in size and typically browsers timeout before the file has been created.

Will my browser be able to view this site?

The S-map Online website has been designed for and tested against standards compliant browsers from various software providers and on common tablet and smart phone devices. Older browsers that do not support all of the required standards may not be able to access all of the site's functionality. We recommend that, where possible, you use Firefox or Chrome.

What is the preferred browser for mobile devices such as tablets?

Google Chrome. Other browsers such as the default that comes with Android is not fully supported.

Why has the soil sibling changed?

Sometimes the soil sibling that is listed at a particular location might change, for example from a Templetonf (Sib 3) to a Templetonf (Sib 23). This is usually due to a correction of one of the base soil property classes (e.g. the functional horizon type). Often the difference between the two siblings is quite minor.

What is a pedo-transfer function?

These predict some harder-to-measure soil properties from more widely collected soils data. The functions might take the form of a statistical or mathematical model or a logical model based on expert knowledge.

Why do estimates of soil properties change?

As linkages between the database of measured data and S-map improve, and more measured data are added to the database, then the statistical or data-mining techniques can be rerun to improve the pedo-transfer functions. Similarly, new experimental information can change our understanding of soil processes, and consequently our expert knowledge of pedo-transfer functions.

How is PAW (Profile Available Water) calculated?

PAW is calculated for each soil horizon to a specified depth or to a root barrier (whichever is the lesser). Prior to June 2013, PAW estimates have been estimated on the basis of a simple correlation between functional horizons and measured soil water data from the National Soils Database (NSD). Available water is derived by subtracting the water content at wilting point (water content of soil at a tension of 1500 kPa) and water content at field capacity (water content of soil at a tension of 10 kPa). When a soil horizon contains stones, the available water is reduced by the proportion of stones present in each horizon.

The new estimate of PAW comes from some new hydrological pedo-transfer functions that are based on a wider range of data, including percentage of sand, silt and clay, the soil classification, soil parent material, and the individual attributes that form the basis of the functional horizons (topsoil vs subsoil, stone content, structure size, and consistence classes). This method allows greater discrimination in determining how these characteristics relate to water content data in the NSD. The new hydrological pedo-transfer functions are generalised linear models (GLM) and is described in detail in McNeill et. al (2018). A short description can be found here.

Also, and very significantly, the new estimates recognise that pumice lapilli hold significant amounts of plant-available water. Laboratory data in the NSD indicate that there is as much water available within lapilli as is held in fine soil material. This means that previous estimates of PAW in pumice soils near Lake Taupo have greatly underestimated water storage characteristics in these soils. We are somewhat surprised at the large PAW values that have been estimated for pumice soils containing lots of lapilli. While we are confident, given available data, that these values are closer to reality than the previous estimates where lapilli were regarded as stones (with zero water-holding capacity), we note that it has been observed that Pumice soils dry out more quickly than Allophanic soils with similar PAW values. Unfortunately there appear to be no experimental data where soil water extraction has been measured under field conditions allowing us to further calibrate our PAW estimates.

McNeill S, Lilburne L, Carrick S, Webb T, Cuthill T 2018. Pedotransfer functions for the soil water characteristics of New Zealand soils using S-map information. Geoderma 326: 96-110.

Will there be more changes to PAW estimates?

Estimation of PAW changes when new data are collected, or when better relationships are found correlating PAW with basic soil attributes. There will be changes in the future, but they should not be as great as the current changes in the North Island.

What does it mean for me?

You may need to rerun any irrigation or nutrient loss calculations, or other risk assessment studies that use PAW estimates as an input.


Last updated: 26 July 2018