Soil salinity

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Soil salinity is the salt content in the soil.[1]


Causes of soil salinity

Salt affected soils are caused by excess accumulation of salts, typically most pronounced at the soil surface. Salts can be transported to the soil surface by capillary transport from a salt laden water table and then accumulate due to evaporation. They can also be concentrated in soils due to human activity, for example the use of potassium as fertilizer, which can form sylvite, a naturally occurring salt. As soil salinity increases, salt effects can result in degradation of soils and vegetation.

Salinization is a process that results from:

  • high levels of salt in the soils.
  • landscape features that allow salts to become mobile. (movement of water table)
  • climatic trends that favor accumulation.
  • human activities such as land clearing, aquaculture activities and the salting of icy roads.[2]

Natural occurrence

Salt is a natural element of soils and water. The ions responsible for salinization are: Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ and Cl-.
As the Na+ (sodium) predominates, soils can become sodic. Sodic soils present particular challenges because they tend to have very poor structure which limits or prevents water infiltration and drainage.

Over long periods of time, as soil minerals weather and release salts, these salts are flushed or leached out of the soil by drainage water in areas with sufficient precipitation. In addition to mineral weathering, salts are also deposited via dust and precipitation. In dry regions salts may accumulate, leading to naturally saline soils. This is the case, for example, in large parts of Australia. Human practices can increase the salinity of soils by the addition of salts in irrigation water. Proper irrigation management can prevent salt accumulation by providing adequate drainage water to leach added salts from the soil. Disrupting drainage patterns that provide leaching can also result in salt accumulations. An example of this occurred in Egypt in 1970 when the Aswan High Dam was built. The change in the level of ground water before the construction had enabled soil erosion, which led to high concentration of salts in the water table. After the construction, the continuous high level of the water table led to the salination of the arable land.

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