I am a colossal soil nerd; I try to learn as much about soil as possible. However, most of my knowledge comes from a classroom setting, which, frankly, is not the most effective way to learn about soils. Soils are best observed with our senses: sight, touch, and smell. Thanks to my internship at the Agroecology Lab at the University of Maryland, I have been able to apply my classroom knowledge—and passion—to real-world problems. One of these problems involves understanding the consequences of saltwater intrusion on coastal farmlands.
Upon starting my internship, I was completely unaware of saltwater intrusion. I broadly understood that climate change affected food systems through rising sea levels, droughts, and storms. I had not considered how these consequences cause salt from the ocean to seep into agricultural soils, damaging crops. Average yields for critical crops can decrease as much as 50% as a result of sea level rise, droughts, and storms (Shrivastava and Kumar 2015). Rising sea levels brings salt directly into freshwater systems, heavy coastal storms can carry salt from the ocean inland, and droughts can cause salt to accumulate in the soil.
It is crucial to note that climate change is not the only way salt from coastal systems is intruding inland. Extracting freshwater from the ground and existing water control infrastructures, such as canals and ditches, can carry saltwater to inland soils (Tully et al. 2019). Studying agricultural ditches and canals will improve our ability to adapt coastal agricultural lands to rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change.
As I've become more familiar with the issues affecting our soils on the Eastern Shore, I have also learned some critical laboratory skills that I did not know before. I had the opportunity to join the lab in the field to collect soil samples, and I process soil samples in the lab with my mentor, Silver. I believe that I am growing as a scientist from working in the Agroecology lab, and I deeply enjoy working with the Agroecology Team. They understand the value of soil, and they know that our lives depend on understanding and protecting it from assault.
Shrivastava, P., & Kumar, R. (2015). Soil salinity: A serious environmental issue and plant growth promoting bacteria as one of the tools for its alleviation. Saudi journal of biological sciences, 22(2), 123–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjbs.2014.12.001.
Tully, K., Gedan, K., Epanchin-Niell, R., Strong, A., Bernhardt, E. S., BenDor, T., ... & Weston, N. B. (2019). The invisible flood: The chemistry, ecology, and social implications of coastal saltwater intrusion. BioScience, 69(5), 368-378.
- By Mary Gumerov