Dust Lakes Keep Popping Up Across the West – The Atlantic

by | Jan 16, 2023 | Climate Change

This story was originally published by High Country News.Last summer, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed dust blowing 85 miles from its source: Lake Abert and Summer Lake, two dried-up saline lakes in southern Oregon. This had happened before: Saline lake beds are some of the West’s most significant sources of dust. California’s Owens Lake was once the nation’s largest source of PM10, the tiny pollutants found in dust and smoke, and plumes blowing off the 800 square miles of the Great Salt Lake’s exposed bed have caused toxin-filled dust storms in Salt Lake City.Saline lakes are rapidly losing water to climate change and agricultural and urban uses, becoming some of the West’s most threatened ecosystems. Now new legislation is offering some support. On December 27, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act, which allocates $25 million in funding for research and monitoring of saline lakes across the Great Basin. Although this funding is an important step, it cannot give the lakes what they really need: more water.The Interior West is full of salt lakes, created when snowmelt pools in the valley bottoms of the Basin and Range region. The valleys have no outflow, so the water remains until it evaporates, leaving behind the particles that were suspended in it. These accumulate over time, giving the lakes a high salinity.“It creates a unique system that supports brine shrimp and alkali flies that can feed incredible populations of migratory birds,” says Ryan Houston, the executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, which seeks to con …

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