Digital soil mapping workflow for forest resource applications: a case study in the Hearst Forest, Ontario

Publication: Canadian Journal of Forest Research
22 July 2020


Accurate soil information is critically important for forest management planning and operations but is challenging to map. Digital soil mapping (DSM) improves upon the limitations of conventional soil mapping by explicitly linking a variety of environmental data layers to spatial soil point data sets to continuously predict soil variability across a landscape. Thus far, much DSM research has focussed on the development of ultrafine-resolution soil maps within agricultural systems; however, increasing availability of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data presents new opportunities to apply DSM to support forest resource applications at multiple scales. This project describes a DSM workflow using LiDAR-derived elevation data and machine learning models (MLMs) to predict key forest soil attributes. A case study in the Hearst Forest in northeastern Ontario, Canada, is used to illustrate the workflow. We applied multiple MLMs to the Hearst Forest to predict soil moisture regime and textural class. Both qualitative and quantitative assessment pointed to the random forest MLM producing the best maps (63% accuracy for moisture regime and 66% accuracy for textural class). Where error occurred, soils were typically misclassified to neighbouring classes. This standardized, flexible workflow is a valuable tool for practitioners that want to undertake DSM as part of forest resource management and planning.


Des informations précises sur les sols sont absolument essentielles pour la planification et les opérations d’aménagement forestier mais elles sont difficiles à cartographier. La cartographie numérique des sols (CNS) constitue un progrès par rapport aux limites de la cartographie conventionnelle des sols en reliant une variété de couches de données environnementales à des ensembles de données spatiales ponctuelles des sols pour prédire la variabilité à travers un paysage de façon continue. Jusqu’à maintenant, beaucoup de travaux de recherche sur la CNS ont mis l’accent sur le développement de cartes des sols à très haute résolution pour des systèmes agricoles. Cependant, la disponibilité croissante de données lidar offre de nouvelles opportunités d’appliquer la CNS en support à des applications qui concernent les ressources forestières à de multiples échelles. Ce projet décrit un flux de travail de CNS qui utilise des données altimétriques dérivées du lidar et des modèles d’apprentissage automatique (MAA) pour prédire des attributs importants des sols. Une étude de cas dans la forêt de Hearst, dans le nord-est de l’Ontario, au Canada, est utilisée pour illustrer le flux de travail. Nous avons appliqué plusieurs MAA à la forêt de Hearst pour prédire le régime d’humidité et la classe de texture. Une évaluation tant qualitative que quantitative indiquait que le MAA de forêt aléatoire produisait les meilleures cartes (précision de 63 % pour le régime d’humidité et de 66 % pour la classe de texture). Lorsqu’il y avait des erreurs, les sols mal classés étaient typiquement placés dans les classes voisines. Ce flux de travail standardisé et flexible est un outil précieux pour les praticiens qui veulent entreprendre la CNS en tant que composante de la planification et de la gestion des ressources forestières. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

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cover image Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume 51Number 1January 2021
Pages: 59 - 77


Received: 13 February 2020
Accepted: 30 June 2020
Accepted manuscript online: 22 July 2020
Version of record online: 22 July 2020


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Key Words

  1. digital soil mapping
  2. machine learning
  3. forest management


  1. cartographie numérique des sols
  2. apprentissage automatique
  3. aménagement forestier



Christopher Blackford
Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.
Brandon Heung
Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University, Truro, NS, Canada.
Ken Baldwin
Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.
Robert L. Fleming
Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.
Paul W. Hazlett
Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.
Dave M. Morris
Centre for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada.
Peter W.C. Uhlig
Ontario Forest Research Institute, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.
Kara L. Webster
Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.


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