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Salinisation impacts in life cycle assessment: A review of challenges and options towards their consistent integration

Payen S., Basset-Mens C., Nunez M., Follain S., Grünberger O., Marlet S., Perret S., Roux P.. 2016. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 21 (4) : p. 577-594.

DOI: 10.1007/s11367-016-1040-x

Purpose Salinisation is a threat not only to arable land but also to freshwater resources. Nevertheless, salinisation impacts have been rarely and only partially included in life cycle assessment (LCA) so far. The objectives of this review paper were to give a comprehensive overview of salinisation mechanisms due to human interventions, analyse the completeness, relevance and scientific robustness of existing published methods addressing salinisation in LCA and provide recommendations towards a comprehensive integration of salinisation within the impact modelling frameworks in LCA. Methods First, with the support of salinisation experts and related literature, we highlighted multiple causes of soil and water salinisation and presented induced effects on human health, ecosystems and resources. Second, existing life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods addressing salinisation were analysed against the International Reference Life Cycle Data System analysis grid of the European Commission. Third, adopting a holistic approach, the modelling options for salinisation impacts were analysed in agreement with up-to-date LCIA frameworks and models. Results and discussion We proposed a categorisation of salinisation processes in four main types based on salinisation determinism: land use change, irrigation, brine disposal and overuse of a water body. For each salinisation type, key human management and biophysical factors involved were identified. Although the existing methods addressing salinisation in LCA are important and relevant contributions, they are often incomplete with regards to both the salinisation pathways they address and their geographical validity. Thus, there is a lack of a consistent framework for salinisation impact assessment in LCA. In analysing existing LCIA models, we discussed the inventory and impact assessment boundary options. The land use/land use change framework represents a good basis for the integration of salinisation impacts due to a land use change but should be completed to account for off-site impacts. Conversely, the land use/land use change framework is not appropriate to model salinisation due to irrigation, overuse of a water body and brine disposal. For all salinisation pathways, a bottom-up approach describing the environmental mechanisms (fate, exposure and effect) is recommended rather than an empirical or top-down approach because (i) salts and water are mobile and theirs effects are interconnected; (ii) water and soil characteristics vary greatly spatially; (iii) this approach allows the evaluation of both on- and off-site impacts and (iv) it is the best way to discriminate systems and support a reliable eco-design. Conclusions This paper highlights the importance of including salinisation impacts in LCA. Much research effort is still required to include salinisation impacts in a global, consistent and operational manner in LCA, and this paper provides the basis for future methodological developments.

Mots-clés : analyse du cycle de vie; salinité; Évaluation de l'impact; salinité du sol; salinisation du sol; utilisation des terres; irrigation; eau usée; eau d'irrigation; eau superficielle; eau souterraine; pollution par l'agriculture; pollution de l'eau; pollution du sol; méthodologie; salinisation; salinité de l'eau

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