Salt Production and use is Shifting the Natural Balances of Salt Ions across Earth Systems
The increasing saltiness of sources of freshwater is one of the biggest concerns.
It’s time to have a friendly chat about something crucial that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Human activities are causing significant disruptions to Earth’s natural cycles, and one of the latest concerns is our impact on the planet’s salt cycle – a topic that’s been flying under the radar.
You see, while we’re all aware of the global issues like climate change and its impacts on wildlife, there’s another problem we need to address. According to a recent study, our actions are seriously messing with Earth’s salt cycle, and the consequences could be dire.
This research, conducted by experts from the University of Maryland, the University of Connecticut, Virginia Tech, and other institutions, has revealed what they’re calling an “existential threat” to our freshwater resources. Published in “Nature Review Earth & Environment” on Oct. 31st 2023, The Anthropogenic Salt Cycle, shows how excess salt propagates along the anthropogenic salt cycle, causing freshwater salinization syndrome to extend beyond freshwater supplies and affect food and energy production, air quality, human health and infrastructure.
We’ve always had salt naturally brought up to the Earth’s surface over long periods by geological and hydrological processes. But here’s the twist – we’re accelerating this process through mining, land development, and the use of road salts to melt ice.
This isn’t just about table salt; it’s about various types of salts and their concentrations in rivers, soils, and even the air. Human-induced changes, like the drying up of lakes, are contributing to this problem. As ecologist Gene Likens from the University of Connecticut puts it, “It’s a cycle – from the deep Earth to the atmosphere – that’s been significantly perturbed by human activities.”
The findings are concerning. Approximately 2.5 billion acres of soil worldwide have been impacted by human-caused salinization, and road salt is making its way into the air. But perhaps the most alarming consequence is the increasing saltiness of our freshwater sources.
It’s essential to understand that salt levels have far-reaching effects, from influencing snowfall on mountaintops to our susceptibility to respiratory illnesses. This issue demands immediate attention.
So, here’s the call to action: let’s assess our impact on the salt cycle and work on reducing it. A good starting point could be the 44 billion pounds of salt used on US roads annually. It’s a complex issue, but it’s worth addressing, even if salt isn’t considered a primary drinking water contaminant. We need to take steps to regulate it and prevent it from reaching harmful levels in our environment.
In the end, it’s up to us to protect the balance of our planet’s natural systems. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for all.