And so it goes. - K. Vonnegut
GW strikes again, this time it's the Great Salt Lake, evaporating 24/7, portending a potential ecological time bomb if nothing is done.
Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, on land that used to be submerged by the Great Salt Lake.
A delicate balance ... now unbalanced
Now two changes are throwing that system out of balance. One is explosive population growth, diverting more water from those rivers before they reach the lake.
The other shift is climate change, according to Robert Gillies, a professor at Utah State University and Utah’s state climatologist. Higher temperatures cause more snowpack to transform to water vapor, which then escapes into the atmosphere, rather than turning to liquid and running into rivers. More heat also means greater demand for water for lawns or crops, further reducing the amount that reaches the lake.
End result - Phase One ...
Last summer, the water level in the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest point on record, and it’s likely to fall further this year. The lake’s surface area, which covered about 3,300 square miles in the late 1980s, has since shrunk to less than 1,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The salt content in the part of the lake closest to Salt Lake City used to fluctuate between 9 percent and 12 percent, according to Bonnie Baxter, a biology professor at Westminster College. But as the water in the lake drops, its salt content has increased. If it reaches 17 percent — something Dr. Baxter says will happen this summer — the algae in the water will struggle, threatening the brine shrimp that consume it.
While the ecosystem hasn’t collapsed yet, Dr. Baxter said, “we’re at the precipice. It’s terrifying.”.
Phase two ...
The long term risks are even worse. One morning in March, Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, walked out onto land that used to be underwater. He picked at the earth, the color of dried mud, like a beach whose tide went out and never came back.
The soil contains arsenic, antimony, copper, zirconium and other dangerous heavy metals, much of it residue from mining activity in the region. Most of the exposed soil is still protected by a hard crust. But as wind erodes the crust over time, those contaminants become airborne.
Clouds of dust also make it difficult for people to breathe, particularly those with asthma or other respiratory ailments. Dr. Perry pointed to shards of crust that had come apart, lying on the sand like broken china.
Remember, this is just the beginning and ... we continue to do stupid shit.