Nav: Home

Environmental changes in the Mekong Delta spell trouble for farmers

July 23, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - The Mekong Delta is home to 15 million people, many of whom rely on the delta's rich soil and water resources for farming and fishing. But their livelihoods are being threatened by rising sea levels, droughts, dams, and other hydrological shifts. A new article from researchers at the University of Illinois and Iowa State University explains the challenges.

"The management dilemma for the Mekong Delta is to ensure a habitable environment for human well-being and for rice and aquaculture productivity, while strategically conserving wetland ecologies," says Kenneth Olson, professor emeritus in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I and co-author of the article.

The delta, which sits at the southern tip of Vietnam and Cambodia, is characterized by seasonal flooding and nutrient-rich sediment deposits from the Mekong and Bassac Rivers as they flow toward the South China Sea. Historically, mosquitoes, malaria, waterborne diseases, and unpredictable flow patterns made the delta a difficult place to live.

The population began to expand after French colonists set up a series of canals in the 1800's, in an attempt to partially drain the delta. After the canals were installed, dikes and levees followed. Once people had more control of the water, they could make it work for them. Today, the Mekong Delta is a leading exporter of rice, shrimp, and other seafood.

But the productivity of the delta may not last forever, according to the researchers. In fact, delta farmers and other residents are already experiencing problems.

"The hydrological balance between the South China Sea and the Mekong River is shifting," says Lois Wright Morton, professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology at Iowa State and co-author of the article.

"New dam-building upstream across the main stem of the Mekong River in China and Laos, along with recent droughts, have reduced the river's freshwater flows during the monsoon season. Further, rising sea levels from a changing climate is pushing seawater upriver into the branches and main stem of the Mekong River and Delta during the dry seasons, causing serious saltwater intrusions. The deposition of rich sediments during the monsoon seasons is important for agricultural production and has been significantly reduced."

The researchers point out that the Mekong Delta is not alone in trying to balance environmental challenges with the need to support increased food production and a growing population. Other major deltas, including the Mississippi, are experiencing loss of wetlands, land subsidence, reduced sedimentation on coastal wetlands, poor water quality, and excess agricultural nutrients and other pollutants.

"Historical perspectives, new science and technologies, and public and political efforts are critical if the deltas of the present and future are to ensure an environment habitable for human well-being and strong agricultural productivity, while strategically conserving wetland ecologies," Olson says.
-end-
The article, "Polders, dikes, canals, rice, and aquaculture in the Mekong Delta," is published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation [DOI: 10.2489/jswc.73.4.83A].

University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Related Droughts Articles:

Widespread droughts affect southern California water sources six times a century
A University of Arizona-led study used the annual growth rings of trees to reconstruct a long-term climate history and examine the duration and frequency of ''perfect droughts'' in Southern California's main water sources.
How do conifers survive droughts? Study points to existing roots, not new growth
As the world warms, a new study is helping scientists understand how coniferous forests may respond to drought.
LANL news: Drought impact study shows new issues for plants and carbon dioxide
Extreme drought's impact on plants will become more dominant under future climate change, as noted in a paper out today in the journal Nature Climate Change.
An evapotranspiration deficit drought index to detect drought impacts on ecosystems
The difference between actual and potential evapotranspiration, technically termed a standardized evapotranspiration deficit drought index (SEDI), can more sensitively capture the biological changes of ecosystems in response to the dynamics of drought intensity, compared with indices based on precipitation and temperature.
Peatlands trap CO2, even during droughts
French scientists studied the two species of moss that make up the peatland.
'Planting water' is possible -- against aridity and droughts
Together with scientists from the UK and the US, researchers from the Leibniz- Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) have developed a mathematical model that can reflect the complex interplays between vegetation, soil and water regimes.
How the Pacific Ocean influences long-term drought in the Southwestern US
Analyzing the full life cycle of long-term droughts and how they relate to El Niño and La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean could eventually lead to better prediction of damaging, multiyear droughts in the Southwestern US.
Warming climate intensifes summer drought in parts of US, study finds
Researchers using climate data from before and after the Industrial Revolution found that in regions with low soil moisture, higher temperatures brought about by climate change led to a 'coupling' of land and atmosphere, which increased the severity of heatwaves.
Storm water banking could help Texas manage floods and droughts
A study by The University of Texas at Austin has quantified the amount of water flowing in major Texas rivers during heavy rains and found that there is enough room in coastal aquifers to store most of it.
Scientists see fingerprint of warming climate on droughts going back to 1900
In an unusual new study, scientists say they have detected the fingerprint of human-driven global warming on patterns of drought and moisture across the world as far back as 1900.
More Droughts News and Droughts Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.