Nov 6, 2017

Great Salt Lake shrinking may be due to humans' thirst, not climate change

Water levels at the Great Salt Lake have dropped dramatically in the last 170 years

The Great Salt Lake is half the size it was in 1847. Scientists previously thought the lake was shrinking due to a shifting climate, but a study published last week in Nature Geoscience says it's getting smaller because humans are using water before it can reach the lake, writes Sarah Derouin for Science Magazine.

Why it matters: The Great Salt Lake is an important refuge for migratory birds and rare aquatic species. As the metropolitan area around the Great Salt Lake grows, the impact on water supply will need to be considered. Study author Wayne Wurtsbaugh tells Derouin water inflows into the lake will need to increase by at least 24% for it to stay healthy. Other salt lakes are shrinking, as well, likely for related reasons.

What they did: The researchers re-created 170 years of climate data using climate records, tree ring data, and stream level records. Precipitation changed little over time but the amount of water flowing into the lake declined greatly.

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