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Soil salinization in very high-density olive orchards grown in southern Portugal: Current risks and possible trends


Deficit irrigation practices carried out in very high-density olive orchards grown in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal can bring important economic benefits in terms of water savings, yields, and oils. They can also result in serious salinization/sodification problems without proper management of soil and water resources. The main objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term (30 years) impact of those irrigation practices on local soil resources using a multicomponent transport modeling approach embedded in the HYDRUS-1D model. Soil salinization and sodification risks were quantified for 160 soil profiles by considering eight different scenarios: current monitored irrigation practices (S1), using waters of variable quality (S2-S6), planting maize as an alternative crop (S7), and using climate change projections for the region (S8). Despite the large observed variability, simulations that considered current irrigation practices (S1) produced average values of the electrical conductivity of the soil solution (EC sw ) at the end of the leaching seasons always below the threshold limit for crops moderately tolerant to soil salinity. In this scenario, the average values of the sodium adsorption ratio (SAR) were also kept within the same magnitude of those determined at the beginning of the simulation period (initial conditions). Irrigations with worse quality waters (S2-S6) led to higher EC sw and SAR values. Although annual rainfall amounts influenced the salinity build-up, the SAR evolution depended mainly on water quality. In maize soil profiles (S7), the simulated EC sw and SAR values were lower than in olive soil profiles, with irrigation practices contributing to salt removal during the seasons. Conversely, the climate change scenario (S8) resulted in slightly higher EC sw and SAR values than those simulated for current conditions, indicating a potentially greater risk of soil degradation in the near future. Although current irrigation practices seem to present relatively low soil salinization/sodification risks, the variability of results and the uncertainty associated with model predictions indicate that close monitoring to prevent further degradation of soil and water resources in the region should be recommended.

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