Taking account of uncertainties in digital land suitability assessment

PeerJ. 2015 Oct 27:3:e1366. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1366. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

Simulations are used to generate plausible realisations of soil and climatic variables for input into an enterprise land suitability assessment (LSA). Subsequently we present a case study demonstrating a LSA (for hazelnuts) which takes into account the quantified uncertainties of the biophysical model input variables. This study is carried out in the Meander Valley Irrigation District, Tasmania, Australia. It is found that when comparing to a LSA that assumes inputs to be error free, there is a significant difference in the assessment of suitability. Using an approach that assumes inputs to be error free, 56% of the study area was predicted to be suitable for hazelnuts. Using the simulation approach it is revealed that there is considerable uncertainty about the 'error free' assessment, where a prediction of 'unsuitable' was made 66% of the time (on average) at each grid cell of the study area. The cause of this difference is that digital soil mapping of both soil pH and conductivity have a high quantified uncertainty in this study area. Despite differences between the comparative methods, taking account of the prediction uncertainties provide a realistic appraisal of enterprise suitability. It is advantageous also because suitability assessments are provided as continuous variables as opposed to discrete classifications. We would recommend for other studies that consider similar FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) land evaluation framework type suitability assessments, that parameter membership functions (as opposed to discrete threshold cutoffs) together with the simulation approach are used in concert.

Keywords: Digital soil assessment; Digital soil mapping; Land suitability assessment; Soil mapping.

Grants and funding

The research conducted for this manuscript was funded by the Australian Research Council via its Linkage Projects Scheme. ARC Linkage Project LP110200731 Wealth from Water—Soil information for new sustainable irrigated agriculture in Tasmania. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.