University of Utah study: Great Salt Lake dust on snow helped hasten melt 17 days early
Jun 25, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 12:55 pm
(Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune)
This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education, and media organizations to help inform people about the history and the plight of the Great Salt Lake.
SALT LAKE CITY — The highest snowpack dust concentrations in 13 years at an Alta study site were recorded in 2022, accelerating snowmelt by 17 days — and dry beds at the Great Salt Lake were the chief culprit in terms of the widespread nature of the dust.
A study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters and conducted by the University of Utah showed the Great Salt Lake contributed 23% of the total dust deposited.
The Great Salt Lake Desert contributed 45% and the dry lake beds of Sevier Lake and Lake Tule contributed 17% combined, but the Great Salt Lake’s dust had the highest footprint per surface area.
Researcher McKenzie Skiles, assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Geography, said dust sources in the study area were mapped by source and surprisingly revealed the outsized role the Great Salt Lake plays.
“What we saw is that the Great Salt Lake was producing the most dust per surface area and that just means while we get a lot of dust from the west desert, it’s less dust over a bigger area,” she said. “So we have a relatively small source region for the dry lake bed of the Great Salt Lake, but it’s very efficient at producing dust, and that dust is incredibly close to the Wasatch Mountains.”
Researchers say the impact on snowmelt would have been much greater and more dramatic if not for the wet spring with frequent snowstorms.
The study revealed the potentially disastrous impacts if the dust problem grows in the central Wasatch mountain range east of the Salt Lake City area, which gets up to 60% of its municipal water supply from four streams that are part of the drainage.