Oman, a country known for its environmental conservation, pollution control and maintenance of ecological balance, is facing many environmental problems related to changing climate. Some of these include increased salinity of soil and water in the coastal plains, water scarcity, industrial runoff into the water tables and aquifers, and desertification.
In May, we took a look at Qatar and Saudi Arabia, also part of the GLOBE Near East North Africa region, who are facing similar concerns, with water scarcity being the major worry. Vegetation in the region has adapted to the dry climate; however, as the climate continues to change, agricultural success is expected to fluctuate more wildly. While this is also a concern in Oman, water scarcity is tied to soil salinity – a problem the country is facing more frequently.
Salinity is the amount of saltiness or dissolved salt content (sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium sulfates, and bicarbonates) in a body of water or in soil. As the amount of rainfall decreases while temperatures increase, more salt is able to accumulate in the soil due to increased evaporation rates. Since 1990, the balance between use of lower salinity water, a.k.a. freshwater, and the annual freshwater recharge has been disturbed so much that crops have been yielding less and fields are abandoned.
Why do crops yields suffer from higher salinity? Higher soil salinity results in plants not being able to draw as much water from the soil. And in locations such as Oman that require irrigation, more salt is added to the soil than is removed. Additionally, Oman’s coastal locations are favorable for sea salt spray to accumulate in the soil. It is possible to use two GLOBE investigations, soils and hydrology, to monitor soil and water properties to determine the current salinity and any rate of change. Sultan Qaboos University has been looking into ways to mitigate soil and water salination, especially since the country has been facing water shortages.
Hope isn’t completely lost, as there are means to correct salt-affected soils. This includes improving drainage or reducing evaporation by using mulches. With these mitigation efforts, it is anticipated that soil salinity can drop and crops can flourish again.
Are you a GLOBE school using hydrology and/or soil protocols to look at salinity? Have you noticed any changes in your data? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.