first_img Utah’s Great Salt Lake has lost half its water, thanks to thirsty humans Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country The world’s saltwater lakes are drying up and scientists have long suspected climate change was to blame. Now, a study reveals another potential culprit: thirsty humans. According to more than 170 years of water records and a comparison of how much water flows in and out of the lake, consumption of freshwater is likely to blame for the shrinking of Utah’s Great Salt Lake—and of similar lakes around the world.Since 1847, the Great Salt Lake has steadily shrunk, reaching its lowest recorded level in 2016. Today, the lake is 3.6 meters below its 1847 level and just half its original volume. Previously, many researchers thought the decline—here and in other saltwater lakes—was caused by wet and dry cycles related to climate change, says Wayne Wurtsbaugh, a limnologist at Utah State University in Logan.To test that notion, Wurtsbaugh and his colleagues recreated the climate around the Great Salt Lake for 170 years, based on historical precipitation, stream level records, and tree ring data. The records showed that precipitation and temperature patterns had hardly fluctuated during the period, meaning that the amount of water flowing into the lake from nearby streams is likely the same today as it was in 1847. Next, the team did some hydrological accounting, creating what’s known as a water balance. They compared the amount of water flowing into the lake from rivers, precipitation, and groundwater to the amount evaporating out of the lake; if the lake stayed the same size, the water in and out should balance. It didn’t. Migratory tundra swans in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the shores of Great Salt Lake in Utah. Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) By Sarah DerouinNov. 3, 2017 , 8:00 AMcenter_img Email Why? Every year, people living in the region (which includes rapidly growing Salt Lake City) divert 3.3 trillion liters of water, not from the lake itself, but from the handful of streams feeding it. With climate staying relatively stable, the team concluded that humans are triggering the decline by consuming streamwater before it replenishes the lake, they reported last week in Nature Geoscience. Although some of that water returns to the lake (for example, by soaking into the ground after irrigation), Wurtsbaugh says the new calculations show that the overall amount fell 39% from 2003 to 2012. This, in addition to long-term stream records, suggests that climate change isn’t the culprit.“This type of work is great to understand what’s changing and why,” says Hilary McMillan, a hydrologist at San Diego State University in California who was not involved with the study. She adds that the study “proves twice over” how much of the change is due to climate change versus human consumption—vitally important for helping water managers predict water needs. Conservation scientist Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, agrees.She says that typically, policymakers report natural variations as the main reason for decreasing water. “From a policy perspective, this paper will have implications.”Those policies could have an outsize impact on public health. As dry lakebed is exposed, salts and sediments can go airborne, causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems, says Maura Hahnenberger, an atmospheric scientist at Salt Lake Community College. She says that dust storms in Salt Lake City have typically blown in from distant lakebeds like the Bonneville Salt Flats, about 170 kilometers away. But as the Great Salt Lake declines, “the [pollution] source is very close to the population centers.”Humans aren’t the only creatures affected. Saltwater lakes, which account for nearly a quarter of such water bodies around the world, create unique ecosystems for plants and animals like brine shrimp and the endangered peregrine falcon. They also provide habitats for migrating birds, many of which bulk up on brine shrimp before and during their long journeys.Wurtsbaugh says that the key to preserving saltwater lakes (including Iran’s Lake Urmia) is to strike a balance between human consumption and conservation. The team concludes that inflows to the Great Salt Lake will need to increase 24% to 29% to maintain its health and stability. Wurtsbaugh adds that with the population of Utah set to double by 2050, long-term conservation and planning is crucial. “We need to be thinking 50, 100, 200 years out.” Chris Luecke Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwelast_img

Utahs Great Salt Lake has lost half its water thanks to thirsty

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