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A Regionalised Life Cycle Assessment Model to Globally Assess the Environmental Implications of Soil Salinization in Irrigated Agriculture

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posted on 02.03.2020, 19:36 authored by Montserrat Núñez, Matthias Finkbeiner
We present a global, locally resolved life cycle assessment (LCA) model to assess the potential effects on soil quality due to the accumulation of water-soluble salts in the agricultural soil profile, allowing differentiation between agricultural practices. Using globally available soil and climate information and crop specific salt tolerances, the model quantifies the negative implications that salts in irrigation water have on soil quality, in terms of change in the soil electrical conductivity and the corresponding change in the amount of crops that can be grown at increasing soil salinity levels. To facilitate the use of the model, we provide a life cycle inventory tool with information on salts emitted with irrigation water per country and 160 crops. Global average soil susceptibility is 0.19 dS/m per grams of salt in 1 m3 of soil, and the average resulting relative crop diversity loss is 5.7 × 10–2 per grams of salt in 1 m3 of soil. These average values vary tangibly as a function of the location. In most humid regions worldwide, the characterization factor is null, showing that in these cases soil salinization due to irrigation does not contribute to soil degradation. We displayed how to apply the model with a case study. The model serves for guiding decision-making processes toward improving the sustainability of irrigated agriculture.