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Salt intrusion and salinization management in coastal areas for a sustainable food production and ecosystem health

Project Description

The aim of this project is to aid sustainable food production and the maintenance of healthy ecosystems by unravelling the relationship between salinity-induced land degradation and sea level rise/storms and by developing synthetic indicators translating flood and coastal erosion hazard maps into land degradation indices to serve as reference for land-use management practices.
With almost two thirds of the world population experiencing a critical food deficit and more than a third of the world soil suffering from degradation, sustainable food production and ecosystem health is a big challenge.

Salt intrusion and soil salinization have been causing land degradation in many coastal areas worldwide (e.g. Lake Urmia, Iran; Yangze River, China; Mekong River Delta, Vietnam), and have been compromising food production and freshwater availability. Land degradation is exacerbated by groundwater extraction, urbanization, sea level rise, and increase in both frequency and magnitude of storm surges (Shokri-Kuehni et al., 2017; Li et al., 2019).

Land degradation due to storm surges is becoming a pressing issue in the UK as well. The Environmental Agency has esteemed that 432,000 ha of agricultural land with a capital value of over £132 billion are at risk from coastal flooding (Halcrow Group Ltd. et al., 2001). The Suffolk coastline is an area characterised by an intense storm activity, and there are historical evidences about the damage to agriculture that storms have been causing (Pye and Blott, 2006).

This project aims at investigating issues related to salt intrusion and soil salinization in coastal areas by combining numerical models and experimental data. We will look into how the transport properties of porous media and external conditions influence the dynamics of seawater intrusion in soil.

The project is based on the combined use of experimental data and numerical models and will couple large scale modelling with information obtained from small- scale porous media analysis from laboratory experiments.
This project aims to answer the following:
• How soil properties, water content, and heterogeneity influence the extent of soil salinization and saltwater intrusion?
• How different land uses alter the risk of land degradation?
• Are there possible mitigation strategies to be adopted to reduce the risk of salt intrusion, and salinization in coastal areas?
Flood and erosion hazard maps for the UK are common. However, these data are rarely translated and interpreted in terms of long-term system resilience from a land degradation point of view. There is thus the need to develop parametrization and tools to connect the risk of flooding to the risk of land degradation due to salinity. This project aims at developing the capabilities to transfer large-scale hydrodynamic model outputs into soil quality indicators with a special focus on the risk of soil salinization. The development of simple analytical parameters and identification of key relationships between soil salinity, surge occurrence, and flow velocity, is a practical tool that could be used by farmers and stakeholders to understand the risk of land degradation and to better prepare management and crop cultivation plans.

This project will incorporate the use of numerical models for the simulation of hydrodynamics and surface salinity distribution and laboratory experiments using state of the art equipment such as micro-fluid flow reader, pressure sensor and Thermal cameras to test soil quality under different salt and water content conditions.

To apply for this opportunity, please visit: and click the ’Apply online’ button.

Funding Notes

Full funding (fees, stipend, research support budget) is provided by the University of Liverpool for 3.5 years for UK or EU citizens. Formal training is offered through partnership between the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester. Our training programme will provide all PhD students with an opportunity to collaborate with an academic or non-academic partner and participate in placements.


1. Shokri-Kuehni, S.M., Rad, M.N., Webb, C. and Shokri, N., 2017. Impact of type of salt and ambient conditions on saline water evaporation from porous media. Advances in Water Resources, 105, pp.154-161.
2. Li, X., Leonardi, N., Plater, A.J., 2019, Impact of barrier breaching on wetland ecosystems under the influence of storm surge, sea-level rise and freshwater discharge, Wetlands
3. Halcrow Group Ltd., HR Wallingford, John Chatterton Associates, 2001. National appraisal of assets at risk of flooding and coastal erosion in England and Wales. Final Report for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London.
4. Pye, K., & Blott, S. J. (2006). Coastal processes and morphological change in the Dunwich-Sizewell area, Suffolk, UK. Journal of Coastal Research, 453-473.

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