Land System Database User’s Manual – Introduction

How the land system concept organizes, summarizes and displays data from a variety of sources for assessment or planning purposes.


Welcome to the land system component of the Agricultural Region of Alberta Soil Inventory Database (AGRASID).

Land systems provide descriptions of landscapes at region scale. In Alberta, they are a systematic amalgamation of the existing AGRASID soil landscape polygons describing regional scale landscapes.

The representative scale of land systems is 1:250,000.

Defining land systems

The land system concept is an integrated survey approach used for describing "regional landscapes". Australians have employed this concept worldwide – as a rapid way for assessing the agricultural potential of large areas within the "outback". So too has the British Foreign Service as a framework for planning and development projects in Africa.

Land systems define "areas of the country in which there is a recurring pattern of soils, vegetation and topography" (Anon 1954). The land systems definition used in AGRASID depict landscapes of recurring, or distinctive patterns of geomorphology, geology, topography, soils and vegetation or land use, at a scale of 1:250 000. The minimum size of a land system is 1 township, with the mean size of 3-5 townships" (CAESA-SIP Procedures Manual 1997).

The framework

Within AGRASID, land systems assignment to the Ecozones, Ecoregions and Ecodistricts occurs as defined in A National Ecological Framework for Canada (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1996). Ecodistricts are the smallest unit of this national framework. The AGRASID land systems are subdivisions of these Ecodistricts. The symbol of each land system consists of the unique Ecoregion and Ecodistrict symbols and then the individual land system number.

For example, a land system symbol looks like "01.2a.17". The "01" refers to the Ecoregion; the "2a" to the corresponding Ecodistrict within Ecoregion 01; and "17" refers to the unique Land System within the Ecodistrict 2a and Ecoregion 01. Therefore, land systems are nested and inherently linked to this national ecological framework.

Table 1. Relationship of Land Systems to the components of the National Ecological Framework

Ecological Framework Hierarchy Scale of Representation Symbol Description
Ecozones (National) 1:7.5 M Prairies  
Ecoregions (Provincial) 1:5 M 02 Moist Mixed Grassland
Ecodistricts (Regional) 1:2 M 02.1b Vulcan Plain
Soil Landscapes 1:100,000 WNY1/U1h  

The land system concept

The land system concept is an accepted regional scale landscape unit. We use it to organize, summarize and display data from a variety of sources. It also functions as a useful base for external databases in Alberta.

The land system concept was an integral step in the compilation of the AGRASID files.

Maintaining data

The personnel who developed AGRASID used a top-down approach.

When creating the preliminary land systems maps, the team systematically summarized existing ecological, geological and soil information. Soil analysts used that information during mapping to assign the 1:100,000-scale soil landscape polygons to appropriate land systems. These nest within an already established and standard hierarchical ecological framework (Ecological Stratification Working Group 1995).

Using the land system concept during AGRASID compilation helped maintain the hierarchical ecological framework soil/landscape data.

Expanding the system

After compiling the AGRASID files, user interest and acceptance of the land systems concept grew. Because of this, the land systems component needed additional development. This work would require further financial support.

Land systems maps were already proving useful as regional planning tools for the following municipalities:

  • County of Stettler (Brierley et al. 1992)
  • County of Vulcan (Kwiatkowski and Marciak 1994)
  • M.D. of Starland (McBride et al. 1995)

Potential clients appreciated the ability to link farm headquarter Statistics Canada data to these regional landscapes. They could subsequently summarize land-use activities for each land system (Hiley et al. 1994). Stettler even developed municipal-scale conservation plans based on its land-systems map.

Seeing the benefits, the governmental agencies acknowledged earlier offered their support for the Land System Database development.

Land system map users

The intended audience for land-system maps includes:

  • planners
  • consultants
  • agricultural Fieldmen
  • regional soil conservationists
  • program managers

These users require soil and landscape information as a broad regional theme integrated with other resource data.


Descriptions of land systems were initially available in 2 forms on the compact disk (CD) version of the AGRASID data:

  • on the standalone AGRASID Viewer packaged with the initial version of AGRASID, and
  • as an Adobe Reader document called LS_genrl.pdf now renamed to general-land-systems-descriptions20190723.pdf

When AGRASID migrated to the internet, the general descriptions of 1:100, 000 scale “soil landscapes” replaced general descriptions of 1:250,000 scale “land systems”. This feature currently exists in the Alberta Soil Information Viewer’s “General Land Information” side menu selection.

Using the system

The information contained within the general-land-systems-descriptions20190723.pdf is available for download in this guide:

General land systems descriptions for the agricultural regions of Alberta

Users who require land system data related at an AGRASID soil landscape scale may access a table called “ag41sl2ag41lslg” when they download AGRASID 4.1 soil landscapes spatial data. In previous versions of AGRASID, this information was contained in the land system legend dbase file called “LS_LEGND.dbf”.

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