Causes Of Soil Salinization
Salts are naturally found in minerals present in the soil. Due to drainage by water, as minerals weather, salt is released into the soil. Soil erosion acts as a factor that contributes to salinization. In dry regions, soil tends to be naturally saline. Dryland salinity is enhanced by cutting of trees. Without trees, water percolates into the soil in amounts larger than the natural purifiers can contain. This leads to increased saline concentration in the groundwater table.
Traditional irrigation practices are known to cause salinization is in some cases. Water naturally contains dissolved salts in it. When this water is used for irrigating large tracts of land, the water gets used up by plants or evaporates. The residue of salts is left behind. When this process repeatedly occurs, the salinity of soil gets increased.
In most places, a combination of factors of irrigation and groundwater percolation adds to the salinization of soil.
Groundwater exploitation in coastal areas due to excessive demand causes groundwater level to be exhausted and paves the way for marine water to enter into the underwater table. The saline marine water then causes salinization of soil. Natural disasters such as tsunamis can also cause salinization of coastal regions for an extended period. Overexploitation of groundwater table is mainly attributed to urbanization and extensive water requirement for irrigation.
Effects of Soil Salinization
The soil ecosystem, composed of plants and small organisms dwelling in soil, is severely disrupted with higher than normal levels of salinity. High salts dissolved in water are taken up by the roots of plants. Cells of plants in such a hypertonicity will experience plasmolysis. The protoplasm will shrink within the cell wall. It disrupts the normal functioning of the cell. Some species have a higher salinity tolerance and may survive up to some high concentration of salts. Sodium salts may even be poisonous to organisms. Either way, high salinity is deteriorative to any form of life.
While in some cases, soil erosion is the cause of salinization, salinization can also cause soil erosion. When salt contents are too high, vegetation does not grow in the soil. Due to this, the soil is less firmly held, leading to erosion.
Due to the salinization of soil, the water quality in an area could be detrimentally affected. The presence of ions such as copper, cadmium, magnesium, and zinc makes the water unsuitable for drinking.
The loss of vegetation due to salinization hampers agricultural industries, whether it is caused by natural disasters like tsunami or unforeseen human actions like overexploitation of water table. This brings economic losses to a large sector. It can also cause food shortage since salinization causes loss of agricultural land. It is estimated that about 10 million hectares of land are lost every year. This will, in turn, cause a reduction in agricultural production. With the growing demand for food, it could cause a food shortage.
Prevention Of Soil Salinization
Reversal of salinization is almost rare, and if possible, highly expensive and energy-consuming. Tackling the causes of salinization is useful for prevention. Some such suggested measures are improving the efficiency of irrigation channels, growing plants that desalinize the soil, etc. Improvement in irrigation is done by controlling the amount of water that leaches into the soil, hence reducing the drainage and sedimentation of salts in the soil. Strip cropping is also an effective solution. Irrigation is provided only to some parts of the land by growing crops in alternate strips of land. The strips with no crops are left without sowing. Hence, the salt deposited in the soil will be reduced through this practice. Sometimes, when an agricultural land has been significantly salinized by irrigation, it is abandoned for some time, until by natural process, the salinity returns to an equilibrium. Naturally, salty soils have poor aquifer capabilities, and this increases the salt concentration of the water table. The aquifer capability of these soils can be enhanced by planting more trees with deep roots that will act as purifiers. Novel and innovative high-tech solutions to salinization of water are under consideration and very much awaited.
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