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Thomas Caspari

Pedologist, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Thomas is a soil scientist and enthusiast. After completing an environmental science degree in Germany he chose soils as a career. During his MSc on Management of Soil Fertility at the University of Reading/England he came across the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and subsequently characterised the soils of Bhutan as part of his PhD at the University of Munich/Germany.

In his professional career, Thomas worked in teaching, research, administration, and consulting. Besides in ‘classical’ soil science, Thomas has working experience in forestry, GIS and geotechnology, global land degradation and sustainable land management.

While working for ISRIC – World Soil Information in the Netherlands, Thomas led the project for the organisation’s new corporate website ( And he particularly enjoyed being involved in stakeholder-based decision-making on soil and land-related topics.

Thomas joined Manaaki Whenua’s Soils & Landscapes team in 2017. His role as a pedologist involves building bridges between traditional and novel approaches in soil science, e.g. by soil resource mapping and evaluation, managing the ‘Soils Portal’, and facilitating data entry to the National Soil Data Repository (NSDR).

Saving our legacy: Towards a culture of soil data and information custodianship

100 years of soil survey and research in Aotearoa New Zealand have generated an impressive amount of soil information. A soils and land data audit at Landcare Research in 2012 identified over 650 institutionally and privately held data assets, but much of the data were found to be unstructured, meaning they could not be easily discovered, retrieved, reused, or interpreted.

This acted as a wake-up call. Considerable efforts have since been made by Manaaki Whenua (MW) to reduce the institutional ‘soil data debt’:

• A national soil observation data repository (NSDR) has been re-established:
• Most published legacy soil maps have been digitised;
• Many legacy soil reports have now been indexed, scanned and made publicly available;
• A Pacific Soils Portal has been released;
• A soil sample register for the National Soils Archive (NSA) has been compiled;
• Antarctic soil data holdings are currently being reviewed and made available.

Maximising the value of our historic soils information is a no-brainer. It can be up to ten times more economical to rescue existing data as compared to capturing new data. An example is the use of legacy soil maps for S-map Online.

Data custodianship is of course not restricted to historic data only. Where it comes to kaitiakitanga for our soil data holdings, there is increasing complexity as we navigate our Te Tiriti responsibilities. Data sovereignty and privacy are increasingly requiring a cautionary approach to ensure which data can be shared, and with whom.

But the most important step is to build a culture that treasures soil data, supporting and incentivising better personal and institutional behaviours.

Let’s dare to be data custodians, not just data generators!

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