Spatial analysis of soil salinity and soil structural stability in a semiarid region of New South Wales, Australia

Environ Manage. 2008 Aug;42(2):265-78. doi: 10.1007/s00267-008-9100-z. Epub 2008 Apr 15.


Salt-affected soils are a major threat to agriculture especially in the semiarid regions of the world. The effective management of these soils requires adequate understanding of not only how water and, hence, solutes are transported within the soil, but also how soil salinity and sodicity spatially interact to determine soil structural breakdown. For sustainable agricultural production, information on quantitative soil quality, such as salinity, is required for effective land management and environmental planning. In this study, quantitative methods for mapping indicators of soil structural stability, namely salinity and sodicity, were developed to assess the effect of these primary indicators on soil structural breakdown. The current levels of soil salinity, as measured by electrical conductivity (EC) of the soil/water suspension, soil sodicity, represented by exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP), and aggregate stability, were assessed. Remote sensing, geographical information system (GIS), and geostatistical techniques--primarily regression-kriging and indicator-kriging--were used to spatially predict the soil sodicity and salinity. The patterns of salinity (EC) and sodicity (ESP>5%) were identified. The effect of land use on these soil quality indicators was found to be minimal. Co-spatial patterns were elucidated between sodic soils (defined by ESP>5%) and highly probable mechanically dispersive soils predicted from indicator-kriging of ASWAT scores. It was established that the incorporation of EC with ESP into an objective index, called electrolyte stability index (ESI=ESP/EC), gave a good indication of soil dispersion, although the threshold ESI value below which effective structural breakdown might occur is 0.025, which is twice as small as the expected 0.05. The discrepancies between ESI and ASWAT scores suggest that other soil factors than salinity and sodicity are affecting soil structural breakdown. This calls for further investigation. The study provides valuable information in the form of risk zones of soil structural breakdown for land management. These zones, with a probability of mechanical soil dispersion of >0.70, require immediate management attention with greater monitoring and amelioration techniques, particularly gypsum or lime application and/or altered cultivation techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • New South Wales
  • Sodium Chloride / chemistry*
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Water / chemistry


  • Soil
  • Water
  • Sodium Chloride