Mining contributes significantly to economic development, but it also entails extensive environmental damage, such as soil degradation and water and air pollution. Mining activity impacts the soil quality, often making it unable to support ecosystem function and structure. The current study aims to apply the soil quality index (SQI) as a methodology for quantifying soil restoration status in an open-pit phosphate mine in Israel’s hyper-arid environment. In this regard, we evaluated an ecological restoration practice that includes topsoil refilling compared to the adjacent undisturbed natural system, using transformed and standardized scorings of 11 physical, biological, and chemical soil properties that were further statistically integrated into overall SQI values. Our results revealed significant differences between the restoration practice areas and the nearby natural areas, with a higher soil quality value in the latter. It is proposed that the topsoil restoration method is mainly affected by soil biological indicators, such as soil organic matter, soil proteins, and polysaccharides related to micro-organic growth, and in a lesser extent, by physical properties (primarily infiltration rate, followed by AWC). The former properties encourage the biocrust establishment, which is essential for soil surface stabilization and affects the water infiltration rate and nutrient availability. The chemical indicators showed no significant differences between most of the sites for the overall soil quality. In conclusion, soil properties, primarily physio-biological ones, should be selected to quantify and evaluate restoration practices in hyper-arid ecosystems.
Mr. Nathan Levi
Soil Quality Index for Assessing Phosphate Mining Restoration in a Hyper-Arid Environment
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel