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These images show the dramatic effects of the Great Salt Lake's high water levels in the 1980s. These effects included a great increase in the lake’s area, the opening of the causeway crossing the lake, and the creation of a new evaporation basin west of the lake.

The Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake, with no outlet rivers running to the ocean. Since water leaves the lake only through evaporation, it leaves behind its dissolved minerals, making the lake up to 8 times as salty as seawater.

The lack of outlets also means the lake responds dramatically to change in inflow. Rainy weather beginning in 1982 brought the highest levels in recorded history, peaking in June 1986 and March–April 1987. The lake is shallow for its size—about 70 miles long and 30 miles wide, but only about 40 feet deep. Because the lake basin is so shallowly sloped, extra inflow to the lake makes it rise only slowly, but any rise means a large increase in area. Highways, causeways, and parts of Salt Lake City were flooded or threatened in the 1980s, costing millions of dollars.

By 2016, years of drought and increased water use brought the lake to record low levels. This low level of the lake can increase dust pollution and reduce mineral extraction, shrimp production, waterfowl habitat, and recreational opportunities.

A report by Watershed Sciences and Utah State University says that the lake has persistently declined since the mid-1800s: "consumptive water use has reduced net river inflow to the lake by 39 percent over the past 150 years."


Every picture has a story to tell
Sept. 13, 30, 1972, Landsat 1 (path/row 41,42/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Sept. 22, 29, 1987, Landsat 5 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Sept. 6, 15, 1999, Landsat 7 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Sept. 8, 15, 2011, Landsat 5 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Sept. 28, Oct. 7, 2016, Landsat 8 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Oct. 7, 16, 2019, Landsat 8 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Apr. 28, May 5, 2021, Landsat 8 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
June 9-10, 2022, Landsat 8 and 9 (path/row 38,39/31,32) — Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA


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References (Earthshot Overview/Parent Only)

Arnow, T., and Stephens, D., 1990, Hydrologic characteristics of the Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1847–1986: U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper, 32 p.

Carlowicz, M., 2016, Salt Lake Water Woes: NASA Earth Observatory, accessed on November 3, 2016, at

Gore, R., and Richardson, J., 1985, No way to run a desert: National Geographic, v. 167, no. 6, p. 694–719.

Hassibe, W.R., and Keck, W.G., 1991, The Great Salt Lake: Washington, U.S. Geological Survey, 24 p.

NASA Earth Observatory, 2007, Algae in Great Salt Lake: NASA, available online at (Accessed May 14, 2012.)

Utah Water Science Center, 2010, Great Salt Lake, Utah: U.S. Geological Survey, available online at (Accessed May 14, 2012.)

Wallace, J.W., 2011, A lake divided—A history of the Southern Pacific Railroad Causeway and its effects on Great Salt Lake, Utah: Utah Geological Society, available online at (Accessed May 14, 2012.)

Ware, L., 1984, The Great Salt Lake gets greater every day: Audubon, National Audubon Society, New York, v. 86, no. 5, p. 118–131.

Wold, S.R., and Waddell, K.M., 1994, Salt budget for West Pond, Utah, April 1987 to June 1989: U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 93-4028, 20 p.

Wurtsbaugh, W., Miller, C., Null, S., Hahnenberger, M., and Howe, F., 2016, Impacts of Water Development on Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front: Utah State University, 9p. Available online at

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