Algae in Great Salt Lake, Utah is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 15 crewmember on the International Space Station. According to scientists, the Great Salt Lake of northern Utah is a remnant of glacial Lake Bonneville that extended over much of present-day western Utah, and into the neighboring states of Nevada and Idaho, approximately 32,000 to 14,000 years ago. During this time, the peaks of adjacent ranges such as the Promontory and Lakeside Mountains were most likely islands. As climate warmed and precipitation decreased in the region, glaciers that fed melt-water to Lake Bonneville disappeared, and the lake began to dry up. The present-day Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake in that water does not flow out of the lake basin. Water loss through the year is due primarily to evaporation, and when this loss exceeds input of water from rivers, streams, precipitation, and groundwater the lake level decreases. This is particularly evident during droughts. This process of evaporation, together with the relatively shallow water levels (maximum lake depth is around 33 feet), has led to increased salinity (dissolved salt content) of the lake waters. The north arm of the Lake, displayed in this image, typically has twice the salinity of the rest of the lake due to impoundment of water by a railroad causeway that crosses the lake from east to west. This restriction of water flow has led to a striking division in the types of algae and bacteria found in the north and south arms of the lake. In the northern arm (north of the causeway), the red algae Dunaliella Salina and the bacterial species Halo bacterium produce a pronounced reddish cast to the water, whereas the south arm (south of the causeway) is dominated by green algae such as Dunaliella viridis. The Great Salt Lake also supports brine shrimp and brine flies; and is a major stopover point for migratory birds including avocets, stilts, and plovers.
Image/caption credit: NASA
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