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Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

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Soil salinity in Aceh after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
M.K. McLeod a,*, P.G. Slavich a, Y. Irhas b, N. Moore a, A. Rachman c, N. Ali b, T. Iskandar b,
C. Hunt a, C. Caniago b

Industry & Investment NSW Primary Industries Australia, Tamworth Agricultural Institute, 4 Marsden Park Road, Tamworth, Calala, N.S.W. 2340, Australia
Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology, Aceh, Indonesia
Indonesian Soil Research Institute, Bogor, Indonesia



Article history:
Received 1 June 2009
Accepted 27 October 2009
Available online 19 January 2010

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated about 37,500 ha of coastal farmland in Aceh, and crops
planted after the tsunami were severely affected by soil salinity. This paper describes the changes of soil
salinity over time on tsunami affected farms and the implications for resuming crop production after
natural disasters.
Soil salinity and salt leaching processes were assessed across the tsunami affected region by
measuring soil apparent electrical conductivity (ECa) using an electromagnetic induction soil
conductivity instrument (EM38) combined with limited soil analysis. The ECa was measured 5 times
between August 2005 and December 2007 in both the vertical (EMv) and horizontal (EMh) dipole
orientations at 23 sites across Aceh. The level of salinity and direction of salt movement were assessed by
comparing changes in mean prole ECa and relative changes in EMv and EMh.
Eight months after the tsunami the average soil salinity in the 01.2 m soil depth varied from ECe 22.6
to 1.6 dS m1 across sites in the affected region and three years after the tsunami it varied from 13.0 to
1.4 dS m1. Soil salinity tended to be higher in rice paddy areas that trapped saline tsunami sediments
and held seawater for longer periods. Leaching of salts occurred slowly by both vertical displacement and
horizontal movement in surface waters. Hence, soil salinity persisted at a level which could reduce crop
production for several years after the 2004 tsunami. High soil salinity persisted three years after the
tsunami even though there had been more than 30007000 mm of accumulated rainfall to leach salts.
The slow leaching is likely to have been due to the loss of functional drainage systems and general low
relief of the affected areas.
Monitoring of soil salinity with EM38 assisted local agricultural extension agencies to identify sites
that were too saline for crops and determine when they were suitable for cropping again. The
methodology used in this study could be used after similar disasters where coastal agriculture areas
become inundated by seawater from storm surges or future tsunamis.
Crown Copyright 2009 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Seawater inundation
Soil electrical conductivity
Electromagnetic induction

1. Introduction
The earthquake measuring more than 9.0 on the Richter scale on
26 December 2004 triggered a violent, 10 m high tsunami, killing
and injuring hundreds and thousands of people and affecting farm
lands in low-lying coastal areas around the Indian Ocean.
The effect of this tsunami on agriculture includes soil
salinisation (Subagyono et al., 2005; Rachman et al., 2005;
Wijewardena and Gunaratne, 2005; Chaudhary et al., 2006;
Rengalakshmi et al., 2007; Chandrasekharan et al., 2008; Raja
et al., 2009), soil sodicity (Rachman et al., 2005), increased soil
organic matter content (Rengalakshmi et al., 2007; Agus et al.,

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 2 6763 1457; fax: +61 2 6763 1222.
E-mail address: (M.K. McLeod).

2008), heavy metal contamination (Szczucinski et al., 2006;

Swamy et al., 2006; Ranjan et al., 2008), increased Na, K, Ca, Mg,
Cl, and SO4 contents (Szczucinski et al., 2006), increased soil pH,
cation exchange capacity, N, P, and K contents (Chaudhary et al.,
2006; Rengalakshmi et al., 2007); deposition of various types and
origin of sediments (FAO, 2005a; Paris et al., 2007; Tarunamulia,
2008; Slavich et al., 2008; Rachman et al., 2005; Bahlburg and
Weiss, 2007; Szczucinski et al., 2006; Chaudhary et al., 2006;
Rengalakshmi et al., 2007; Babu et al., 2007), changes in surface
topography and hydrology associated with soil erosion and
sedimentation (Slavich et al., 2008; Bahlburg and Weiss, 2007;
Szczucinski et al., 2006), and soil physical degradation (Hulugalle
et al., 2009). The effect on agriculture water included poor
irrigation water quality associated with increased turbidity and
decreased oxygen level (Chaudhary et al., 2006), increased water
salinity (Wijewardena and Gunaratne, 2005; Rengalakshmi et al.,

0378-3774/$ see front matter . Crown Copyright 2009 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

2007; Raja et al., 2009; Szczucinski et al., 2006), increased levels of

As, Mn, Fe, and B (Ploethner, 2006), and contamination with
bacteria and coliform (Swamy et al., 2006).
Most previous studies on soil salinity in tsunami affected areas
are limited to few locations and did not attempt to quantify
changes in prole soil salinity on a regional scale over a period of
years. Raja et al. (2009) reported soil salinity status of up to two
rainy seasons after the tsunami, but sampling was limited to the
upper 0.3 m of the soil prole. Szczucinski et al. (2007) repeated
measurement 1 year after the tsunami, but focussed only on the
surface sediment layers.
Acehs lowland farming system typically consists of rice grown in
rotation with palawija crops. Rice is the main crop grown during the
wet season (SeptemberJanuary), and palawija such as peanut,
soybean, mungbean and maize as a cash crop grown in the dry
season (Adisarwanto et al., 2001). In areas with a reliable irrigation
water supply, two or three crops of rice are grown per year.
The tsunami in 2004 damaged about 37,500 ha of farmlands
along Acehs coastline, including shponds, rice elds, plantations,
horticulture, home gardens and open elds. The damage was more
severe and extensive on the west coast due to its closer proximity
to the epicentre of the earthquake (FAO, 2005a). The area of
damaged rice elds is about 30,000 ha, with an estimated loss of
production of at least 120,000 t of rice per planting season. The
rehabilitation of the tsunami affected land was necessary to restore
food security in the rural areas and the livelihood of local farmers.
After the tsunami, aid organisations donated tools, seeds and
fertilisers to Acehs farmers, and those on the east coast were able
to replant their least damaged elds within ve weeks of the
tsunami. However, many reported subsequent crop failure. There
was a need to monitor the changes in soil salinity from season to
season to guide farmers when land was again capable of producing
food crops.
Soil salinity level can be assessed by measuring the electrical
conductivity (EC) of the soil. Soil EC can be measured by either
laboratory or eld methods. Laboratory methods typically measure
the EC of a soil water extract from a mix of 1 part of soil and 5 parts
of deionised water (EC1:5) or the EC of a saturated soil paste extract
(ECe). Soil ECe relates more closely to the soluble salt concentration of the soil solution and hence is more related to plant response
across soils of different texture than EC1:5, which is a measure of
total soluble salts per gram of soil. This is why ECe is usually used
to classify soils into low, medium, and high levels of soil salinity.
The apparent electrical conductivity (ECa) is a eld based measure
of bulk electrical conductivity of the undisturbed soil prole. ECa
can be measured using the electromagnetic induction method. ECe
can be estimated from EC1:5 by using an appropriate conversion
factor related to soil texture (Slavich and Petterson, 1993) or from
ECa using a site-specic calibration equation (Slavich and
Petterson, 1990; Rhoades et al., 1999).
Field instruments for measuring the apparent electrical
conductivity of soils using electromagnetic induction (EM) have
been widely used to assess soil salinity (Bennett and George, 1995;
Triantalis et al., 2000; Bennett et al., 2000), land suitability for rice
(Beecher et al., 2002), soil sodicity (Nelson et al., 2002), soil acidity
(Dunn and Beecher, 2007); spatial variation of soil moisture (Huth
and Poulton, 2007), soil texture (Hedley et al., 2004), and depth to
clay pan (Sudduth and Kitchen, 1993; Sudduth et al., 1995; Jung
et al., 2006).
Ground-based EM instruments such as the EM38 (Geonics Pty
Ltd) can provide a rapid measure of the ECa of a soil prole to a
maximum depth of 1.5 m. The main advantage of EM38 is its
portability, allowing rapid salinity assessment of relatively large
and scattered areas. If the exact locations of measurement are
recorded, the survey can be repeated over time to assess changes in
soil salinity levels.

The sensitivity of the EM38 response to soil ECa varies with soil
depth. Measurements in the horizontal mode (EMh) have greatest
sensitivity to soil ECa at the soil surface and declining sensitivity to
a depth of 0.35 m; while measurements in the vertical mode (EMv)
are more sensitive to soil ECa at 0.35 m depth and declining in
sensitivity to a depth of 1.5 m (Slavich and Petterson, 1990). The
relative value between EMh and EMv can be used to estimate the
distribution of soil salinity in the soil prole. If the value of EMh is
greater than EMv, salt levels are likely to be greatest in the top 0
0.35 m of the soil prole. When EMv is higher than EMh then salt
levels are likely to be greatest below the 0.35 m depth. This
difference in sensitivity can be used to assess salt leaching
In this study soil salinity changes over time in the tsunami
affected areas across the Aceh province, were monitored to guide
farmers as to when land was suitable for resuming crop
production. The different sensitivities of horizontal and vertical
dipole readings from the EM38 were utilised to provide an
indication of salt leaching processes.
2. Methods
2.1. Site and soil descriptions
Twenty-three monitoring sites within 5 km of the east coast of
Aceh Province were selected across Aceh Besar, Banda Aceh, Pidie,
and Bireuen districts (Table 1; Fig. 1), depending on the availability
of replanted crops in the tsunami affected elds, road access, and
the security of personnel. The study was commenced before the
Aceh peace agreement was signed and only secure areas with
established local agricultural extension networks were selected.
Most of the assessment sites were bunded lowland irrigated and
rainfed rice elds (sawah), and some were more elevated and used
to grow vegetables or palawija crops.
In each site, 13 xed transects of up to 100 m each were
selected based on visual assessment of crop performance (poor,
medium, and good) during the initial survey in August 2005. There
were a total of 38 transects across the 23 sites. The number of sites
was reduced to 22 in January 2007 because site 4 was converted
into housing. In December 2007, only 10 sites where high salinity
levels remained were measured.
In August 2005, soils from sites 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 16 and 22 (covering a
range of ECa values) were sampled at increments of 0.1 and 0.2 m,
down to 1.2 m for chemical analyses.
Rainfall distribution in the study area is bi-modal (Fig. 2). The
wet season is from September to January and the dry season is from
February to August. The long term average of annual rainfall for
Aceh Besar, Pidie, and Bireuen districts is 1668, 1889 and
1613 mm, respectively. The cumulative rainfall from 2005 to
2007 for these districts is 5205, 7779 and 7214 mm, respectively.
Entisol is the dominant soil type in the coastal oodplain of
Aceh (Rachman et al., 2005). All the assessment sites contained
alluvial oodplain soils with silty loam to silty clay at 00.2 m
depth (Table 1). The puddling practices in lowland rice elds in
Aceh create a medium to heavy clay pan layer at about 0.2 m to
hold water during the rice growing season. Below the clay pan
layer soil texture ranges from loamy sand to clay.
2.2. Assessment tools and procedures
Agricultural research and extension staff in Aceh were trained
in salinity assessment using soil sampling and the EM38
instrument. The soil ECa was measured in both the horizontal
(EMh) and the vertical (EMv) dipole orientations, at about 5 m
intervals along each transect. The instrument was placed on the
ground if the soil was dry and 3 cm above the ground if the soil was

M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613


Table 1
Location and description of assessment sites.
Site ID

Village/sub district/ district

Seukeu/Simpang Tiga/Pidie
Seukeu/Simpang Tiga/Pidie
Tungoe/Simpang Tiga/Pidie
Raya/Triang Gadeng/Pidie
Cot Lheu Rheng/Simpang Tiga/Pidie
Cot Lheu Rheng/Simpang Tiga/Pidie
Kuala Jeumpa/Jeumpa/Bireuen
Bateh Timoh/Jeumpa/Bireuen
Cot Geureundong/Jeumpa/Bireuen
Lapang Timu/Gandapura/Bireuen
Jangka Alueu/Jangka/Bireuen
Teupin Keupula/Jeunib/Bireuen
Nusa/Lhoknga/Aceh Besar
Miruk Taman/Darussalam/Aceh Besar
Suleue/Darussalam/Aceh Besar
Blang Krueng/Baitussalam/Aceh Besar
Lampeudaya/Baitussalam/Aceh Besar
Lampineung/Kuta Alam/Banda Aceh
BPTP Ground/Lampineung/Banda Aceh
BPTP Ground/Lampineung/Banda Aceh

Latitudec N


Longitudec E

09680 09.8010
096840.0 701

Landuse system

Soil texturea (020 cm)

Crop-Aug 05


Silty clay
Silty clay
Silty clay
Clay loam
Clay loam
Clay loam
Silty clay loam
clay loam
Silty clay loam
Silty clay loam
Silty clay loam
Silty clay
Silty clay
Clay loam
Silty loam
Silty loam
Clay loam
Silty clay
Loamy sand
Silty clay loam
Silty clay loam
Silty clay loam

Rice-all dead
Water melon
Egg plant

Based on particle size analysis data (McDonald and Isbell, 2009).

Non-reliable irrigation water supply.
Latitude and longitude coordinates are in WGS84 datum.

saturated. Each site was measured ve times between August 2005

and December 2007.
Information collected from farmers during the initial EM38
survey included: the approximate depth and duration of sea water
inundation, thickness of sediment and its treatments (removed or
incorporated), farming practices and management before and after
tsunami (i.e. crop types, sequence, yield, crop and fertiliser

linear regression was tted between the average prole ECe and
The salinity level in each assessment site was classed into low to
medium (ECe < 4 dS m1), high (ECe = 48 dS m1), and very high
(ECe > 8 dS m1), after converting ECa to ECe.

2.3. Soil analyses

It was assumed that shortly after the tsunami event, the soil
salinity of the affected areas would have been highest near the
surface soil. This assumption was based on three factors. First, the
tsunami came after the wet season had started and the soils were
likely to have been close to saturation. Second, most soils in the area
had been used for paddy rice production and commonly contain a
dense hard pan as a result of annual puddling. Both these factors are
likely to have limited the intake of salt water into the lower part of
the soil prole after the tsunami. Third, salt would have been present
in the deposited sediment that remained on the soil surface.
Soluble salts can move from surface soil via either horizontal or
vertical leaching processes. Horizontal leaching refers to salt
movement into surface water owing across the soil. This water
carries salt laterally to lower areas where it may accumulate or be
removed in a drainage system. Lateral movement is likely to occur
during lling of rice paddies and in oods, both of which occurred
in Aceh after the tsunami. Vertical leaching refers to displacement
of salt by water draining vertically through the root zone to subsoil
layers. Changes in EMh and EMv values of transects over time were
used to infer at which sites leaching of surface salts had occurred
and in which direction.
The vertical leaching of salt would be expected to lead to a
decrease in surface soil salinity (decrease in EMh values) and a
corresponding increase in subsoil salinity (increase in EMv values),
and lower average prole ECa. Hence EM38 data may be able to
identify the 3 stages of vertical leaching illustrated in Fig. 3. This
assumes that there is potential for vertical drainage and that no
further salinisation occurs at the soil surface.
During lateral movement of salts from the surface soil by
oodwaters, subsoil salinity would be expected to change very

Prole soil samples from sites 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 16 and 22 (collected in

August 2005) were analysed for EC, soluble salts, and chloride
contents (in 1:5 soil/water extract), exchangeable Na+ in Ammonium Acetate 1 M, pH 7 extract (Rayment and Higginson, 1992),
and particle size analysis with the pipette method.
2.4. Assessment of repeatability of the transect methodology for the
EM38 instrument and the correlation between ECa and ECe
The repeatability of the EM38 transect methodology on a
particular day was determined to provide an estimate of the error
for comparing data collected at different times after the tsunami.
Two sites, one relatively dry and one wet, were used for this
assessment in May 2006. The wet soil transect (near site 20) had 7
points of measurement. The dry soil transect (near site 21) had 10
points of measurement. Each transect was measured 5 times, and
transect mean and its standard error were calculated for both EMh
and EMv in the dry and wet soils.
Four steps were used to establish the correlation between ECa
and ECe. First, the EC1:5 data from each soil depth layer was
converted to ECe for each soil depth based on texture class
following Slavich and Petterson (1993). The factor of 8.6 (for soils
with 3045% clay content on weight basis) was used as this
represents the dominant soil in Acehs lowland agriculture areas. A
similar conversion factor was also recommended by FAO for rice
paddy soil in Aceh (FAO, 2005b). Second, the average ECe value was
calculated for the soil prole. Third, the average soil prole ECa was
calculated using (EMh + EMv)/2 following Slavich (2002). Finally, a

2.5. Conceptual model of salt leaching based on changes in EMh and

EMv over time


M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

Fig. 1. Location of the assessment sites within the Aceh Besar district (top), Bireuen district (middle), and Pidie district (bottom).

M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613


these soils was mainly related to salinity induced by seawater

inundation. These correlations are described by the following

Cl  1475EC1:5  166

Na  3:43EC1:5 0:29
Saltssoluble  509EC1:5

Fig. 2. Average monthly rainfall distribution for Aceh Besar, Pidie, and Bireuen
districts for 20012005 periods.

r 2 0:96; P < 0:01; n 29



r 0:97; P < 0:01; n 29


r 2 0:998; P < 0:01; n 29


The equivalent ECe ranges of these sites were 0.845.3 dS m1

for 00.1 m depths, and 0.326.1 dS m1 for 0.11.2 m depths.
There was a high linear correlation between the average prole
ECa and ECe, which indicates that the EM38 readings are related
mainly to soil salinity:
ECe 6:38ECa 0:14

r 2 0:91; P < 0:01; n 6


The slope and the intercept from this regression line are
comparable to those of Slavich (2002) for similar soil textural
3.2. Assessment of repeatability of the transect methodology for the
EM38 instrument
The ECa values obtained with the EM38 instrument were highly
consistent on dry or wet soils and in both vertical and horizontal
dipole orientations. The respective measurement errors for EMv
and EMh on the wet soil were 0.6 and 1.5%, respectively, while for
dry soils these errors were 1.1 and 1.0%. This provided condence
that the transect methodology errors were small compared to the
temporal changes in mean transect EM38 readings.
3.3. Average salinity of monitoring sites and site factors
Fig. 3. The conceptual model of soil prole salinity distribution and leaching after
seawater inundation. Stage 1 shortly after seawater inundation (EMh > EMv); stage
2 after some leaching (EMh = EMv), and stage 3 after advanced leaching
(EMh < EMv).

little. Therefore, under this process EMh readings would be

expected to decrease, EMv would either not change or decrease
slightly, so that the average ECa would decrease.
3. Results
3.1. Soil chemical properties and correlation with ECa
The EC1:5, chloride, soluble salt and sodium contents of the
tsunami affected soils from sites 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 17 and 22 were highly
correlated, supporting the assumption that the EC1:5 measured in

In August 2005 the average prole ECe ranged from 1.6 to

22.5 dS m1 with 17 of the 23 sites classed as highly or very highly
saline (Fig. 4). The soil salinity was inuenced by both the time of
inundation and the depth of sediment deposited. Within one site
there was a clear association between the number of days the soil
had been inundated and the soil ECa (Fig. 5). These data were
obtained along one transect in a dry and bare rice eld near site 16,
gently sloped (about 1% slope) towards a bitumen road, which
restricts water ow out of the eld. The drainage channel was
blocked by tsunami debris. The lower part of the eld was
inundated by seawater for up to 6 days after the tsunami, while the
upper slope was inundated only for 3 days. The average ECa in
areas inundated for 6 days were 50% higher than that inundated for
3 days.
Information collected from farmers suggested that the length of
inundation after the tsunami varied from a few hours to many

Fig. 4. Average prole salinity across assessment sites over time on selected survey sequences. The dotted line indicates soil salinity levels based on equivalent ECe values
following Slavich (2002).


M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

Fig. 5. Salinity levels increased with a longer period of seawater inundation after the
tsunami in a rice bay in Keuneue village, near site 15, Lho Nga, Aceh Besar.

weeks. This excludes areas that were totally lost to the sea.
However, the association between the period of inundation and the
salinity level between sites was surprisingly weak (Fig. 6) because
by August 2005 some farmers had already removed the tsunami
sediment out of their elds whereas others incorporated it into the
soil during the cultivation. In addition, some sediment and salts
would have been distributed during the rainy period as was found
in Thailand (Szczucinski et al., 2007).
The length of inundation tended to affect the depth of sediment
deposit in paddy elds, but not in palawija elds (Fig. 6), probably
because of the fact that the bunded paddy eld could trap water
longer, allowing more time for deposition of suspended sediment.
Soil salinity was affected by irrigation water management after
the tsunami, as illustrated in Fig. 7. Sites 5 and 6 are two adjacent
rice elds with no drainage infrastructure (closed eld). In site 6
the tsunami water was pumped out of the eld after the tsunami,
while in site 5 it remained in the eld. A signicant difference in
salinity levels was measured in October 2005 (Fig. 7). Rice crops in
site 5 with extreme salinity level all died, while in site 6 the
vegetative growth of the rice crop was good. This highlighted the

Fig. 7. Comparison of salinity levels between two adjacent rice eld bays with
different water management in October 2005.

importance of maintaining water circulation through the rice eld

where fresh water was available to enable rice establishment after
the tsunami.
Spot soil and water EC measurements, visual observation, and
verbal records from farmers during the survey conrm that soil in
the irrigated rice elds in most districts were less saline than those
in the rainfed rice elds. In dryland rice elds near site 12 the rst
rice seedlings after the tsunami, transplanted in February 2006,
died due to high water salinity in the rice bay (ECwater of 8
10 dS m1). In contrast, the second rice crop (after tsunami, August
2005) in the irrigated eld near site 3, did not show any evidence of
salinity effects. Water in the irrigation channels and rice bay was
fresh (EC of 0.30.7 dS m1).
3.4. Changes in soil salinity over time
Between January and July 2005, 500759 mm rain fell across
the Bireuen, Pidie, and Aceh Besar districts. This rain is likely to
have removed some salt but was not sufcient to bring all sites
back to a low salinity level. In August 2005, 6 sites were classed as

Fig. 6. The relationship between the: (a) period of inundation and depth of sediment, (b) period of inundation and the EMh, and (c) depth of sediment and EMh.

M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613


Fig. 8. Salinity status (a), leaching stages (b) and sites with uctuating salinity (c) from August 2005 to December 2007.

low to medium, 11 as high, and 6 as very high salinity (Fig. 8a). The
number of sites with high level salinity had reduced to 6 by January
2007 and 4 by December 2007, while the number of sites with low
to medium level salinity increased to 9 by January 2007 and 12 by
December 2007.
The conceptual leaching model based on the relative changes in
EMh and EMv values suggested that there was relatively little
change in the leaching status of sites between August 2005 and
May 2006 and larger changes were more evident after January
2007 (Fig. 8b). In August 2005, 15 of the 23 sites had EMv > EMh
and were classed as having been subject to some degree of leaching
(Fig. 8b). This increased to 17 sites only by January 2007 and 21
sites by December 2007.
Of the 8 sites that were at stage 1 leaching in August 2005
(Fig. 8b), 4 sites still had high surface salinity in January 2006.
However, by December 2007, surface salts had been leached from
all of these sites. There were also 5 sites (including 3 sites in the
Pidie district) that were already leached in August 2005 but the
surface salinity increased in January 2006 before progressively
being leached again (Fig. 8c). There was 600 mm of rainfall
between September and December 2005 in the Bireuen district,
and 1565 mm in the Pidie district, causing severe ooding in
December 2005. It is possible that these rains and ood waters
redistributed salts to the lower part of the landscape, so that the
salinity of some sites increased, while some decreased. By the end

of 2007 most of these sites were leached, except site 19 that was
surrounded by a housing development blocking the drainage
Total rainfall in Aceh Besar, Pidie and Bireuen in 2006 was 1557,
2354, and 4095 mm respectively. The totals for 2007 were 2172,
2633, and 1976 mm respectively. Although the soil salinity at most
sites was less by January 2007, 13 of the sites still had a high to very
high soil salinity level (Fig. 8a) despite the high rainfall. By
December 2007, the number of sites with high level salinity
reduced while sites with low-medium level salinity increased. The
number of sites with very high level salinity remained almost
unchanged from August 2005 to December 2007. These are sites
without irrigation and drainage infrastructure (the rainfed sawah
at sites 5, 6, 7, 12, 19 or sites surrounded by housing development
such as site 23). These sites share the common problem of
inadequate drainage infrastructure.
The relative changes in EMv and EMh (Fig. 9) suggest that salt
appears to have moved in both horizontal and vertical directions.
In the rainfed palawija site 21 in Aceh Besar (Fig. 9a) the EMh was
slightly greater than EMv in August 2005. However, by January
2006, EMh had decreased and EMv had increased, which suggests
that there was vertical leaching of salts from the surface soil to an
intermediate depth in the prole (stage 2 leaching, Fig. 3b). In the
rainfed sawah site 7 (Fig. 9b), there was a large increase in EMh
associated with a much smaller increase in EMv in May 2006. This

Fig. 9. Changes in EMh and EMv over time in sites with different land use systems.


M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

suggests horizontal redistribution of salts. The EMh and EMv then

decreased steadily from May 2006 to the end of 2007, possibly due
to a combination of vertical and horizontal leaching processes. The
657 mm of rain that fell in Aceh Besar from September to
December 2005, might have contributed to the surface redistribution of salts on this site.
4. Discussion
Monitoring with the EM38 instrument showed that soil salinity
level was highly variable across the tsunami affected landscape. A
wide range of soil salinity level (low to very high) is also found in
other studies from areas affected by the 2004 tsunami (Subagyono
et al., 2005; Rachman et al., 2005; Wijewardena and Gunaratne,
2005; Chaudhary et al., 2006; Rengalakshmi et al., 2007;
Chandrasekharan et al., 2008; Raja et al., 2009).
The soil salinity during the cropping seasons after the tsunami
was likely to be affected by a complex of factors which included
depth of original tsunami sediment deposited, time of inundation
with seawater immediately after the tsunami, cumulative rainfall,
the occurrence of oods, access to drainage systems and the way
farmers managed surface water. Whether farmers removed
tsunami deposits from their elds is also likely to have affected
the soil salinity level after the tsunami.
The EM38 methodology assisted rapid identication of the
impact of most of these component factors. It also indicated that
both lateral movement of salt across the oodplain and vertical
leaching were signicant processes leading to lower soil salinity.
Only a few instances of changes from stage 1 to stage 2 prole
salinity distribution were observed from the time series EM38
data. The changes in EM38 data more commonly indicated the
prole salinity changed between a stage 1 and stage 3 distribution.
This could result if stage 2 occurred at times between EM38
surveys and was not captured by the methodology and/or if the
leaching processes in these landscapes are characterised mainly by
lateral ows or by-pass ows in the vertical direction.
The highly variable soil salinity and salt removal processes
meant that agricultural extension agencies needed to gather sitespecic information when advising farmers of the potential for
their farms to grow crops after the tsunami. Extension ofcers in
Aceh were equipped with two EM38 instruments to advise farmers
of soil salinity during the recovery period.
The degree of damage to drains and irrigation systems, and the
management of soil and water after the tsunami inuenced the soil
salinity levels. The tsunami caused blocked drains and damaged
irrigation channels, so seawater entering the bunded lowland rice
elds during the tsunami was not able to run out of the elds
immediately after the event. This may have increased the time that
seawater covered the soil after the tsunami compared with some of
the more elevated palawija elds. However, without proper
drainage, even the palawija elds could be highly saline as
demonstrated in sites 21 and 22. Both these sites are located in the
low-lying area of Banda Aceh that was covered by up to 15 cm of
extremely saline sediment.
Rice farming practices in Indonesia require an impermeable
clay pan at about 20 cm depth to hold water during the growing
season. These clay pans are likely to have reduced the depth of
inltration of seawater and limited the rate of vertical leaching.
The reduction of soil salinity levels in these rice elds is likely to
have been by salt movement into standing water followed by
lateral/surface drainage. Evidence of this was observed by poor rice
yields in the lowest parts of rice elds.
It is possible to grow successful paddy rice crops in saline soil
provided that there is adequate circulation of fresh water through
the rice eld (MacDonald and Beale, 1995), and EC of water in bays
is maintained below 2.5 dS m1 (Beecher, 1991). These ndings

were supported by eld observations made on successful rice crops

during the survey.
In Aceh, leaching of salts from the soil surface in the Pidie
district was reported as early as March 2005 (Subagyono et al.,
2005) and most of the assessment sites in this study had already
started leaching by August 2005. However, in most areas the soil
salinity level was still too high for most local crops. Soil salinity
decreased slowly to a low level over 23 years after the tsunami in
sites with operating irrigation and drainage infrastructure.
However, some rainfed rice elds, areas affected by tidal
movement, and areas without adequate drainage infrastructure
remained saline at the end of 2007.
This study indicates that the removal of salts from rice bays in
these areas should be conducted through horizontal ushing
rather than vertical leaching. Horizontal ushing, either with
natural rainfall or irrigation, can only be done if the surface
drainage network is operational. Therefore, providing a good
drainage infrastructure should precede efforts in soil rehabilitation
in tsunami or cyclone affected agricultural land. Palawija crops
were grown in raised beds to provide better in eld surface
drainage. The beds assist removal of mobilised salts from surface
soil to the district drainage channels.
Natural disasters require rapid response to enable survivors to
resume their livelihoods and food production as soon as possible.
Whilst tsunami disasters of this scale are rare, smaller tsunamis
and storm surge that inundate coastal areas with seawater are not
uncommon. It should be expected that farmers affected by similar
sea water inundation events will need rapid site-specic assessments of soil salinity before making cropping decisions. Aid
agencies also need to be aware that soil salinity changes can be
very slow and need to adjust their disaster assistance programs to
account for this. This study has shown that electromagnetic
induction technology can be deployed rapidly by local trained
personnel within disaster areas to assist recovery phase decisions
related to seawater induced soil salinity and subsequent monitoring.
5. Conclusions
Soil salinity in Aceh after the tsunami was highly variable. Soil
salinity tended to be higher in rice paddy areas that trapped
tsunami sediments and held seawater for longer periods. Lowland
rice paddy elds tended to be more saline than the more elevated,
coarser and drier palawija elds.
The salinity persisted at a level that could reduce crop
production for several years even though there had been several
hundred millimetres of rainfall to leach salts. Leaching of salts
occurred slowly by both vertical displacement and horizontal
movement in oodwaters. The slow leaching is likely to have been
due to the loss of functional drainage systems and due to
compacted hard pans beneath rice elds.
Soil salinity assessment using the EM38 instrument has allowed
rapid soil salinity identication and monitoring of tsunami
affected land over large distances across Aceh without the need
for ongoing soil sampling and chemical analysis. The variability in
initial salinity caused by the tsunami and in leaching rates meant
that farmers needed site-specic assessments of soil salinity to
inform them when their land was suitable for cropping.
This project was funded by the Australian Centre for
International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This project was
supported by local Dinas Pertanian (District Agriculture Services),
PPL (Field Extension Ofcer) network in various districts of Aceh,
and BPTP NAD staff. We are grateful to Brian Dunn, Geoff Beecher,

M.K. McLeod et al. / Agricultural Water Management 97 (2010) 605613

Rebecca Lines-Kelly, and Ross McLeod of Industry & Investment

NSW Primary Industries for their constructive comments on the
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