Utah’s Great Salt Lake seen ‘disappearing’ in alarming space footage


It is a story that takes place throughout the American West. Lake levels drop for persistent period drought as man-made climate crisis escalates. The European Space Agency shared a new satellite look at Utah’s Great Salt Lake this week, and it shows just how much the famous body of water has shrunk.

The July 2022 view is from ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 Earth observation mission. The space agency used a headline: “Utah’s Great Salt Lake is Disappearing.” The image shows large parched areas of the lake, with the lake bed exposed as light-colored soil.

A processed view of Utah’s Great Salt Lake as it looked in 1985 with water levels much higher than in 2022.

USGS/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2022), processed by ESA

For contrast, ESA compared the 2022 satellite image with a composite of views captured by the US Landsat 5 satellite in 1985. The difference is striking. Both images include tags showing the location of Salt Lake City and Antelope Island, which now sits largely on an exposed lake bed but was surrounded by water in 1985.

A US Geological Survey report from early July found the lake had fallen below its historic low based on records dating back to 1847. “That’s not the type of record we like to break,” said Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. in a statement at the time. “Urgent action is needed to help protect and preserve this critical resource. It is clear the lake is in trouble.”

USGS data shows the lake has just over a quarter of the volume of water it did at its peak in 1987. The mega-drought and its underpinnings of climate change are one of the culprits, but there has also been a high demand for water use on the waterways that feed the lake due to agriculture and a growing population in and around Salt Lake City.

Urban expansion and water demand are contributing to the decline of the Great Salt Lake. This satellite image used data from the World Settlement Footprint Project to chart the city’s expansion. Growth from 1985 to 2019 is highlighted in red.

ESA (Contains data from DLR World Settlement Footprint)

The ESA points to a host of consequences of lower water levels. “The lake generates a snowpack, serves as a refuge for hundreds of migrating birds and other wildlife, and generates millions of dollars in economic development through mining and tourism,” the agency said. spatial. The dry lake bed also raises airborne dust containing heavy metals, creating a potential public health risk.

The drying up of the Great Salt Lake has probably not yet reached its peak. According to the USGS, “Based on historical records, lake levels will likely continue to decline until fall or early winter, when the amount of water entering the lake equals or exceeds losses. by evaporation.

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