Despite the soil science discipline in the USA hitting hard times in the 1980s and 1990s, there were still many positive advances within soil science in the USA during these two decades. There was an increased use of geophysical instrumentation, remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and global positioning systems (GPS), and research began in digital soil mapping, all of which lead to better understanding of the spatial distribution and variability of soils. Digital soil mapping is being incorporated into the National Cooperative Soil Survey, and the impact of humans on the soil system is being fully recognized. The expansion of soils into new areas and widening recognition of the importance of soils gives the field hope for a bright future in the USA.
Soil mapping, classification, and pedologic modelling have been important drivers in the advancement of our understanding of soil. Advancement in one of these highly interrelated areas tend to lead to corresponding advances in the others. Traditionally, soil maps have been desirable for purposes of land valuation, agronomic planning, and even in military operations. The expansion of the use of soil knowledge to address issues beyond agronomic production, such as land use planning, environmental concerns, energy security, water security, and human health, to name a few, requires new ways to communicate what we know about the soils we map as well as bringing forth research questions that were not widely considered in earlier soils studies.
This paper reviews the historical development of base maps used for soil mapping, and evaluates the dependence of soil mapping on base maps. Formerly, as a reference for spatial position, paper base maps controlled the cartographic scale of soil maps. However, this relationship is no longer true in geographic information systems. Today, as parameters for digital soil maps, base maps constitute the library of predictive variables and constrain the supported resolution of the soil map.