Great Salt Lake

Missing image
Satellite Photo of the Great Salt Lake as it looked in 2003

Great Salt Lake is an endorheic saline lake in northern Utah, much saltier than the ocean. It is the remnant of the prehistoric pluvial Lake Bonneville in the Great Basin.



Salt Lake City and its suburbs are located east of the lake, between the lake and the Wasatch Mountains, but land around the north and west shores are almost uninhabited. The Great Salt Lake Salt Flats lie to the west, and the Oquirrh Mountains rise to the south.

The Great Salt Lake is fed by three major rivers and several minor streams. The Bear River starts in the Uinta Mountains and flows in to the northeast arm of the lake. The Weber River also starts in the Uinta Mountains and flows into east edge of the lake. The Jordan River starts at freshwater Utah Lake and flows into the southeast corner of the lake. A railroad line—the Lucin Cutoff—runs across the lake, crossing the southern end of Promontory Peninsula. The mostly-solid causeway supporting the railway divides the lake into three portions: northeast arm, northwest arm and southern. Since there is no river flowing directly into the northeast arm (also called "Gunnison Bay"), it is now noticeably saltier than the rest of the lake. The salinity also causes noticeably different colors from satellite photos.

The only animals that live in the lake are tiny brine shrimp, the eggs of which are harvested in quantity. They hatch easily and are fed to prawns in Asia and also are sold as a novelty as "Sea-Monkeys." Many water birds feed on the brine shrimp and insects in the wetlands near the lake.

Water levels have been recorded since 1843, averaging about 4200 ft (1280 m) above sea level. Since the Great Salt Lake is a shallow lake with gently sloping shores around all edges except on the south side, small variations in the water level can greatly affect the extent of the shoreline. During low levels, the lake is difficult to approach because it is fringed by mud flats.

Because the water level is variable, it can rise dramatically in wet years and fall during drought years. The water level is also affected by the amount of water flow diverted for agricultural and urban uses. The Jordan and Weber rivers are particularly diverted for other uses. In the 1880s Grove Karl Gilbert predicted that the lake — then in the middle of many years of recession — would virtually disappear except for a small remnant between the islands. Record high levels in the 1980s caused massive property damage for owners on the eastern side, and started to erode the base of Interstate 80. In response, the state built pumps on the western side of the lake to pump dangerously high water out into the west desert, but as of 2004 these pumps are dry and miles away from the lake's shore.

The three largest islands ( are Antelope, Stansbury and Fremont Islands, respectively. Antelope and Fremont Islands are extensions of the Oquirrh mountain range. Stansbury Island and other smaller islands are extensions of the Stansbury mountain range. The lake is deepest in the area between these island chains, about 35 ft (10.7 m) deep at the 4200 ft level. The lake averages 13 ft (4 m) deep at the same level. When the water levels are low (as they were in late 2004 averaging under 4195 ft), Antelope island becomes connected to the shore as a peninsula, as do some of the other islands. In fact, "Stansbury Island" remains a peninsula unless the water level rises above average. At high levels, some of the smaller islands become completely submerged.


Shallow artificial ponds at the edge of the lake are used to produce salt, magnesium and other minerals for commercial sale.

There is a problem with pollution of the lake by industrial and urban effluent. Also, especially when the waters are low, decay of insects and other wildlife give the shore of the lake a distinctive odor, which may keep some tourists from coming near the lake.

A resort called Saltair has been operated on the southern shore of the lake. Rising and lowering water levels have affected Saltair (, and it has burned twice.

The Great Salt Lake is the location for Robert Smithson's piece of land art, Spiral Jetty (1970).


  • Morgan, Dale L. (1947). The Great Salt Lake. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. ISBN 0874804787

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da:Great Salt Lake de:Groer Salzsee ja:グレートソルト湖


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