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Potash Fertilizer Promotes Incipient Salinization In Groundwater Irrigated Semi-arid Agriculture

Sriramulu Buvaneshwari, Jean Riotte, Muddu Sekhar, Amit Kumar Sharma, Rachel Helliwell, M. S. Mohan Kumar, J. J. Braun, Laurent Ruiz

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AbstractIncipient groundwater salinization has been identified in many arid and semi-arid regions where groundwater is increasingly used for irrigation, but the dominant processes at stake in such context are yet uncertain. Groundwater solutes originates from various sources such as atmospheric inputs, rock dissolution and fertilizer residues, and their concentration is controlled by hydrological processes, in particular evapotranspiration. Here, we propose a deconvolution method to identify the sources and processes governing the groundwater Chloride concentration in agricultural catchments, using the relative variations of Sodium and Chloride and using a neighbouring pristine catchment as a reference for the release rate of Na by weathering. We applied the deconvolution method to the case of the Kabini Critical Zone Observatory, South India, where groundwater was sampled in 188 farm tubewells in the semi-arid catchment of Berambadi and in 5 piezometers in the pristine catchment of Mule Hole. In Berambadi, groundwater composition displayed a large spatial variability with Cl contents spanning 3 orders of magnitude. The results showed that the concentration factor due to evapotranspiration was on average about 3 times more than in the natural system, with higher values in the valley bottoms with deep Vertisols. Linked with this process, large concentration of Chloride originating from rain was found only in these areas. At the catchment scale, about 60 percent of the Chloride found in groundwater originates from fertilizer inputs. These results show that Potassium fertilization as KCl is an important source of groundwater salinization in semi-arid context, and stress that identifying dominant drivers is crucial for designing efficient mitigation policies.