Long-term, basin-scale salinity impacts from desalination in the Arabian/Persian Gulf

Francesco Paparella, Daniele D’Agostino, John A. Burt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The nations on the shoreline of the Arabian/Persian Gulf are the world’s largest users of desalination technologies, which are essential to meet their freshwater needs. Desalinated freshwater production is projected to rapidly increase in future decades. Thus, concerns have been raised that desalination activities may result in non-negligible long-term, basin-wide increases of salinity, which would have widespread detrimental effects on the Gulf marine ecosystems, with ripple effects on fisheries, as well as impacting the desalination activities themselves. We find that current yearly desalinated freshwater production amounts to about 2% of the net yearly evaporation from the Gulf. Projections to 2050 bring this value to 8%, leading to the possibility that, later in the second half of the century, desalinated freshwater production may exceed 10% of net evaporation, an amount which is comparable to interannual fluctuations in net evaporation. With the help of a model we examine several climatological scenarios, and we find that, under IPCC’s SSP5-8.5 worst-case scenarios, end-of-century increases in air temperature may result in salinity increases comparable or larger to those produced by desalination activities. The same scenario suggests a reduced evaporation and an increased precipitation, which would have a mitigating effect. Finally we find that, owing to a strong overturning circulation, high-salinity waters are quickly flushed through the Strait of Hormuz. Thus, even in the worst-case scenarios, basin-scale salinity increases are unlikely to exceed 1 psu, and, under less extreme hypothesis, will likely remain well below 0.5 psu, levels that have negligible environmental implications at the basin-wide scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20549
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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