Centenary of salinity research marked by award relaunch

03/04/2024 | 1 min

The University of Western Australia will relaunch the prestigious WE Wood Award for Excellence in Salinity Research to recognise 100 years since the first publication on Australian salinity processes.

Salty land occurs naturally in Australia, when water evaporating from the ocean comes back to earth as rain, or when it is already present in sediment and rocks.

But when salinity increases, crops cannot grow and the soil erodes, a problem affecting 1.75-2 million hectares of land in Australia.

In March 1924, railway engineer WE Wood published the first paper on salinity processes and their impact in Australia, finding that where deep-rooted trees and shrubs use most of the rainfall, little remains to trickle into the groundwater where salt can be stored for thousands of years. 

Mr Wood concluded that when land is cleared for agriculture, however, more rain reaches groundwater level, causing it to rise and bring along the stored salt. 

Most plants cannot use this salty water, and it can impact roads and building foundations, causing them to fall apart, an ongoing issue across Australia. 

Now, at the centenary of Wood’s publication, UWA’s Centre for Water and Spatial Science (CWSS) and Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy (CEEP) are relaunching the WE Wood Award, after a gap of 20 years.

Associate Professor Nik Callow, Co-Director of CWSS, said it was important to recognise work on salinity and its impact. 

“Historical land clearing continues to impact groundwater across Australia; we need new innovative solutions alongside recognition of the significant work already accomplished in this field,” Professor Callow said.

Current strategies involve adapting to salty land; including planting salt-tolerant species, engineering to manage surface and subsurface water, costly revegetation, and novel options such as micro-desalination and inland saline aquaculture.

Writing in The Conversation, previous award recipient and CEEP Co-Director, Professor David Pannell, also welcomed the relaunch.

We've learned a lot about dryland salinity in a century, but the search continues for viable methods of combating or adapting to the salt below, he said.

Nominations are open until 31 May with more details here.

Media references

Professor David Pannell, (UWA Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy), 08 6488 4735

Associate Professor Nik Callow, (UWA Centre for Water and Spatial Science), 08 6488 1924

Emma Gill, (Communications Officer, UWA Centre for Water and Spatial Science) 0447 579 308

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