Utah’s Great Salt Lake is shrinking

NASA says the Great Salt Lake has been shrinking for years due to human consumption of the lake’s water.

The Great Salt Lake, the largest lake in Utah and the largest in the U.S. outside the Great Lakes, began trending for online searches after the New York Times ran an article titled, “As the Great Salt Lake dries up, Utah faces of an environmental impact Nuclear Bomb’” on June 7, 2022.

In particular, people asked if the Great Salt Lake was shrinking and what the water level history was for the lake.


Is the Great Salt Lake shrinking?



This is true.

Yes, the Great Salt Lake is shrinking.


The Great Salt Lake has gradually shrunk in recent decades. Water levels over the past year have been consistently at or near record lows.

Scientists measure water levels by plotting the height of the lake surface compared to sea level at regular points around the lake. Then they estimate the surface of the lake at that water level.

On June 14, 2022, the lake’s water level was 4,190.6 feet above sea level, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). The UDWR says water levels have historically been around 4,200 feet, a loss of about 10 feet.

While that doesn’t sound like a huge drop, the estimated surface area of ​​the lake puts it in much better perspective. Historically, the lake has covered an area of ​​approximately 1,700 square miles. When the lake stood at 4,191 feet on Aug. 12, 2021, the lake covered about 950 square miles, or 44% of its normal surface area, NASA said. Although there are no estimates of the lake’s surface area in 2022 yet, falling water levels suggest the surface area would be even smaller now.

A UDWR time-lapse from 1984 – when the lake was at its highest level since the early 20th century – to 2022 clearly shows that the lake has been shrinking since just after 2000. A NASA side-by-side of the lake’s surface between 2017 and 2021 shows a significant decrease in the lake’s size, with the Clyman Bay and Bear River Bay areas being some of the places where the difference is most easily seen.

NASA says the Great Salt Lake has been shrinking for years due to human consumption of the lake’s water. The recent drought may also have an impact.

“For more than 150 years, humans have withdrawn more water from this enclosed basin — for agriculture, industry, and human consumption — than has entered it,” NASA said. “The drought may have contributed to the lake’s recent decline, as could higher-than-normal temperatures. However, according to scientists, there was no significant long-term change in rainfall in the basin.”

Before 2021, the lake’s record low water level was set in 1963, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said. The Utah Division of Water Resources said the water’s height dropped as low as 4,191.35 feet in 1963 when the lake’s surface area shrank to about 950 square miles — similar to what it is today. The lake reached its historic peak in 1986 when it covered approximately 3,300 square miles with a water level of 4,211.65 feet.

A graph from the Utah Geological Survey visualizes how much the water level of the Great Salt Lake has dropped over the past two decades. It shows that despite the fact that the lake reached its highest water level in 1986, the lake’s water level has generally been declining since 1930. Between 1847 and 1930, the lake had an average water level of 4,202.9 feet. From 1930 to 2015, the lake had an average water level of 4,198.2 feet. The water level has not been higher than this average since 2015.

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Alley Einstein

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