Agents Of Change Salinity In Australia

1595 words - 6 pages

The increase in salinity is becoming one of the most significant environmental problems in Australia. It is destroying the Australian landscapes and is a serious threat to our native species and functioning ecosystems as well has having a major impact on species diversity. Although salinity occurs, to some extent, naturally in some areas, the problem is being increased by some farming practices.There are two types of soil salinity, dryland (occurring on areas of land not exposed to irrigation farming) and irrigation salinity. Both describe areas where the soil contains high levels of salt. Usually, plants and soil organisms are killed or their productivity is severely limited on salinity affected lands.What has caused the problemSalt has been accumulating underground in Australia for thousands of years and up until a few hundred years ago, it wasn’t a problem.Native Australian vegetation evolved to be salt-tolerant, with deep root systems. While the ecosystems were in balance, the salt remained underground. But after European farming methods arrived and cleared the lands of native vegetation replacing it with shallow-rooted annual crops and pastures whose roots did not penetrate as far into the ground, the system became unbalanced.The shallow root system causes excess water to leak from the root zone into the underground water systems each rainfall. The increased amount of water entering the watertables cause the level to rise, mobilizing the underground salt band and bringing the salts to the root zones or the surface, or into lakes, wetlands and rivers etc. (see pic.)Salinity can also occur when the volume of irrigation water exceeds evaporation and transpiration by plants. This increases the water draining underground causing the watertables to rise, which then carries the salts to surface bringing the same consequences as with the land clearing. Evaporation leaves these salts to accumulate on the soils surface, inhibiting vegetation growth.What is the extent of the problemSalinity is contributing to species extinctions, loss of ecosystem health and is destroying the Australian landscape.The effects of salinity include:oland degradationodamage to wildlifeoreduced species diversityoloss of water quality for stock and domestic water suppliesoreduction in the productive capacity of affected land (eg. crop yields)oproduction losses resulting in damage to economyodamage to infrastructureNot only does salinity affect an ecosystem immediately, it can also affect it indirectly, by increasing the salt levels of a freshwater stream for example. The increased saltiness of the water will have an affect on the organisms inhabiting that area by stressing their tolerance range, therefore affecting their reproductive and survival rates.The consequences of salinity are widespread throughout Australia. Dryland salinity affects more than 5 million hectares of land, mostly in southern Australia and causes $270 million in damage each year. (1). The most...

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