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research program 3

environmental applications of regolith geoscience

Inland acid sulfate soils: distribution and regolith processes

Project Leader : Rob Fitzpatrick, CSIRO Land and Water

Start date and duration: July 2004 to June 2008

Participants : CSIRO Land and Water, Adelaide University, Australian National University

Brief project description :


•  To develop innovative approaches and methodologies for constructing mechanistic models of soil-landscape evolution for inland sulfidic environments, including inland acid sulfate soil (ASS) and groundwater systems across Australia .

•  To apply this information to derive pedo-regolith transfer functions to help spatially model and predict soil-water landscape properties at 30 pilot regions/ catchments across Australia (3-8 pilot studies per State) with implications for infrastructure and NRM planning, water quality management and mineral exploration.

•  To apply this information to publish an Atlas of inland ASS in Australia, which includes: (i) a national map of inland ASS with common legend that incorporates risk assessment criteria and correlations between Australian and International Soil Classification Systems, (ii) database of representative soil-regolith case studies from pilot regions around Australia and (iii) web-based product geo-referenced with other ASRIS products.

Scope of Work

•  Create a project framework under which integrated outcomes will be delivered to develop a national understanding of the spatial distribution and process of Inland ASS and related hydrology in Australian regolith by undertaking the following three sub-projects:

(i) Spatial distribution and processes of Inland ASS and acidic groundwaters,

(ii) Geochemistry, isotope geochemistry and mineralogy,

(iii) Biomineralisation and microbial biochemistry.

Knowledge to Date

This new project builds on knowledge of existing staff in CRC LEME with skills in pedology, mineralogy, geochemistry, hydro-geochemistry, geophysics and microbiology. Current staff and students in CRC LEME have developed and are continuing to develop special-purpose mechanistic process models and GIS up-scaling approaches for the broad-scale mapping to characterise, map and remediate inland ASS. They have also demonstrated that Inland ASS can contain anomalous concentrations of elements such as Cu, Pb, and Zn and introduced a new geochemical sampling medium for mineral exploration (ore bodies). However, most of this research was conducted in SA and thus far these projects have not been combined into a unified national approach to optimise the use of resources and these approaches.

The distribution and mechanisms of ASS, especially for Inland ASS, have not been adequately assessed nationally despite their known significance in relation to land degradation, water quality and mineral exploration. It is now critical to define the national spatial distribution, impact on water resources, land degradation and significance to mineral exploration in order to provide the scientific underpinning for policy development, management, amelioration and to identify regions where ASS sampling can be used in mineral exploration.

What is New?

This project integrates new and previous Inland ASS and related hydrogeochemistry projects carried out in Australia for mineral exploration, NRM planning, acidity assessment and management into a National strategic initiative.

Interactions with other projects

This project is linked with CRC LEME projects: (i) 3.18: Impact of water level draw downs on the geochemistry of saline River Murray wetlands (Draw Down Geochemistry), the SA Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation “Loveday Rehabilitation” program and the ANU, (ii) 3.19: Investigating the role of microbial processes in cycling of Fe, S, and metals in acid sulfate soil sites). Close linkages with WA Drainage project (Steve Rogers/ Richard George). Focus and align Inland ASS research in Australia through NatCASS (steering committee for map component) and other State and Federal NRM committees.

Deliverables (outputs) and expected impacts of research (outcomes):


  • Develop improved geophysical and geochemical field methods to characterise and map various sulfidic environments across Australia
  • Develop quantitative mineralogical (XRD) and geochemical (XRF) techniques to improve reliability, accuracy and speed of analysis of ASS
  • Develop new and or more accurate soil-landscape process models of Inland ASS
  • Provide new information on the distribution and properties of Inland ASS in 30 pilot regions/ catchments across Australia (series of web-delivered ASS maps)
  • Develop and promote improved risk assessment and land management systems for Inland ASS
  • Develop new geochemical applications for identifying, and sampling ore bodies from inland ASS and related seepage areas
  • Provide leadership on the development of national (through NatCASS) and international (through International Union of Soil Sciences) interpretation guidelines for describing, characterising, classifying and managing inland sulfidic environments
  • Scientific reports and papers (at least one for Science or Geoderma)
  • An Atlas of Australian inland ASS (Stage 3), incorporating a database of representative soil-regolith case studies from 30 pilot regions/ catchments across Australia
  • A better understanding of inland ASS geochemical processes in different geomorphic, geologic, mineralised zone and land use settings across Australia and publishing this information in a special LEME Monograph/ web site on Inland ASS in Australia.
  • A national map of inland ASS with common legend (web-based product geo-referenced with other ASRIS products) that incorporates: (i) risk assessment criteria, (ii) correlations between Australian and International Soil Classification Systems, (iii) policy, (iv) land-use planning and (v) signatures of economic mineralization.
  • Presentations at a National Inland ASS workshop and five International Conferences.


  • Develop a national understanding of the spatial distribution and biogeochemical process leading to Inland ASS formation and related hydrology in Australian regolith
  • Provide scientific basis upon which ASS risk assessment and management strategies can be developed

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