Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, severity and length of droughts in many parts of the world, a phenomena that could significantly depress crop yields.
Scientists at the University of Bayreuth and the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research in Germany have found a way to boost water availability for plants. The discovery, detailed Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, could help bolster plants against the effects of drought.
Research showed even small amounts of amorphous silica exponentially increase the ability of soil to trap water to be used by thirsty plants.
"Even if the proportion of amorphous silica in soils increases by just 1 percent by weight, the amount of plant available water in soils increases by up to 40 percent -- or even more," Bayreuth geochemist Jörg Schaller said in a news release.
Amorphous silica is a form of silicon dioxide. When added to soil, the molecules form gels that can store large amounts of water.
Previous studies suggest traditional agricultural practices lead to a steady reduction in the amount of silica in soil, making crops even more vulnerable to climate change and extreme drought conditions.
The latest study suggests regular soil fortifications, using amorphous silica, can help soils store more water and help crops survive prolonged droughts -- especially in areas where water resources are scarce.
"Our new study shows a way to mitigate this risk. For this, soil management should be modified to increase the amorphous silica stocks in soils," Schaller said. "Moreover, artificial produce amorphous silica -- which has the same chemical properties as the biogenic silica -- should be used as soil amendments. Such soil silica amendments may play an important role in global food security in the future."