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

  • Supervisors: Nicoletta Leonardi, University of Liverpool

  • External Supervisors: Nima Shokri, Department of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science, University of Manchester

  • Contact:

    Nicoletta Leonardi, University of Liverpool,

  • CASE Partner:

Application deadline: 10 January 2020


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.

Project Summary:

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.



Shokri-Kuehni, S.M., Rad, M.N., Webb, C. and Shokri, N., Impact of type of salt and ambient conditions on saline water evaporation from porous media. Advances in Water Resources, 105, pp.154-161.


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

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.

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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