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Biomimicry of vascular plants as a means of saline soil remediation

Swallow, Mathew J.B., O'Sullivan, Gwen
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.655 pp. 84-91
agricultural productivity, biomimetics, capillarity, clay, crystallization, ecosystem services, evapotranspiration, ferrocyanides, iron, phytoremediation, polluted soils, rooting, saline soils, sodium chloride, soil ecosystems, soil erosion, soil remediation, soil salinization, soil washing, soil water, species diversity, vascular plants, vegetation
Soil salinization impacts millions of hectares of land around the world and threatens many soil ecosystem services. Impacts of soil salinization are long lasting and impact agriculture productivity, reduce plant diversity and cause increase soil erosion due a reduction or loss in surface vegetation. Generally, remediation of saline soil relies on soil washing methods and phytoremediation to translocate salts below the rooting depth of plants. However, standard methods can often be unsuccessful as leached salts are able to return to the rooting zone through subsequent capillary rise in the soil. Surface application of iron (III) ferrocyanide has been used to remediate salt contaminated soil as the ferrocyanide complex induces salts to efflorescence at the soil surface as water evaporates rather than crystallising within the soil matrix. However, surface application of iron (III) ferrocyanide tends to be less successful in clay textured soil and does not work well when subsequent reapplications of water are made for further salt removal. In this study we investigate a biomimetic approach to desalinate soil by mimicking the capillary transport mechanisms employed by vascular plants.Our approach uses evapotranspiration to translocate saline soil water above the soil surface where it is effloresced with ferrocyanides. After 30 days of treatment, the biomimetic approach used 2.1 pore volume equivalents of water and was able to reduce the concentration of salts from 8% (g·NaCl/g·soil) to 0.8% (g·NaCl/g·soil), resulting in a reduction of soil EC from 120 mS/cm to 14 mS/cm. Our findings indicate that the method, with further refinement and expansion to field based trials, could be an effective tool to desalinate soil and reduce global soil salinization.