Seeking the Source of the Vanishing Great Salt Lake

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The Great Salt Lake in Utah is roughly the same area as 75 Manhattans. It feeds and houses millions of birds of hundreds of species, provides the namesake of Utah’s capital city and some credit it for the state’s trademarked claim to “the greatest snow on earth.”

And it’s vanishing.

Since 1847, the volume of water in the lake has dropped nearly 50 percent. More recently, the change has been so dramatic, you can see it from space. In 2016, the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest levels in recorded history.

“Do we want to in 50 years change the name of our city to Salt City because the lake has gone away?” asked Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh, a retired aquatic ecologist at Utah State University.

He and his colleagues reported in an analysis published in Nature Geoscience last month that human consumption — not seasonal fluctuations or climate change — is primarily to blame for the Great Salt Lake’s desiccation. They hope that creating a better understanding of water flowing into and out of the lake may serve as a model for managing salt lakes that face similar threats.

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