[ sal-uh-nuh-zey-shuhn ]
/ ˌsæl ə nəˈzeɪ ʃən /
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the process by which a nonsaline soil becomes saline, as by the irrigation of land with brackish water.
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Origin of salinization

First recorded in 1925–30; salinize + -ation

Words nearby salinization

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is salinization?

Salinization is the process in which soil that is low in salt becomes high in salt.

In this context, “salt” doesn’t just refer to sodium chloride (table salt) but to the whole category of chemical substances known as salts.

When you grow crops, you want to grow them in soil that is low in salt so that the plants can absorb water from the ground through their roots using a process called osmosis. In osmosis, a liquid moves from a place where it can’t easily dissolve (a low concentration of solubles) to a place where it can more easily dissolve (high concentration). In this case, plants usually have a high concentration of solubles so water would move from the soil into the plant.

Salty soil, though, has a high concentration of solubles (salt), so water will stay where it is and not move into the plants. This is a big problem if you are a farmer because your plants will wither and die if they can’t absorb water.

In salinization, soil that wasn’t salty becomes so. The most common cause of salinization is too much water in the soil close to the surface.

Salinization makes it much harder to use land for farming. Often, farmers will need to spend a lot of time, money, and effort getting rid of the excess salt from the soil. Sometimes, the cost of doing this just isn’t worth it so the land will be abandoned entirely.

Salinization has become a global problem, affecting approximately 20% of the world’s farmland. Salinization is more common in arid areas where salty soil water evaporates before it can be drained.

Why is salinization important?

The first records of the word salinization come from around 1925. It is a noun formed from the verb salinize, meaning “to become salty.” Salinization can happen naturally, so the process itself is obviously much older than the term.

Natural causes of salinization include groundwater, wind, or rising sea levels moving salt into the soil. Frequently, though, salinization is caused by human farming, such as from overusing salty water, poorly managing drainage, or not washing salt out of the soil before it can accumulate to harmful levels. We can avoid salinization through proper farming practices.

Signs of salinization include soil that abnormally conducts electricity and the presence of soil-resistant weeds. Treating salty soil is difficult and expensive, so it’s better to prevent salinization from happening at all by properly draining the soil before it becomes excessively salty.

Did you know … ?

Salinization has played a huge part in human history since ancient times. For example, several ancient Mesoptomatian societies collapsed entirely when salinization caused irrigation to fail. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians flourished along the Nile Delta largely because the regular flooding of the Nile prevented salinization and allowed them to successfully farm the land.

What are real-life examples of salinization?

Salinization is a big concern for farmers, natural scientists, and environmentalists.


What other words are related to salinization?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Salinization is a problem for farmers because plants cannot absorb water from salty soil.

How to use salinization in a sentence

  • More efficient use of existing water resources and control of salinization are other effective tools for improving arid lands.

    Deserts|A. S. Walker