Where Is Great Salt Lake?

Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Great Salt Lake is a large saltwater lake located in the northern part of the US state of Utah. The lake occupies an area of approximately 1,700 sq mi, ranking as the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and eighth-largest terminal lake in the world. However, due to its shallowness, the size of the lake fluctuates substantially. For example, the lake reached a surface area of about 3,300 sq mi in 1988 and a low of only 950 sq mi in 1963. Additionally, Great Salt Lake is the largest lake in the United States that is not a part of the Great Lakes. The major tributaries of the Great Salt Lake include the Bear River, Weber River, and Jordan River, which together deposit more than one million tons of minerals in the lake annually.

Origin of Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake is considered the largest remnant of a larger prehistoric pluvial lake in western Utah called Lake Bonneville. The pre-historic lake had an estimated area of 22,400 sq mi and covered much of the present-day state of Utah, as well as extending into present-day Nevada and Idaho. At its deepest point, Lake Bonneville reached a depth of 923 ft, and was roughly ten times the size of the Great Salt Lake. About 16,800 years ago, a large portion of Lake Bonneville was released through the Red Rock Pass, which is located in the state of Idaho. In response to a warming climate, remaining portions of the lake began to dry, leaving behind several lakes including Utah Lake, Rush Lake, Sevier Lake, and the Great Salt Lake.


The Great Salt Lake gave its name to Salt Lake City, Utah, which was previously named Great Salt Lake City by Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lake is located within five counties of Utah, namely Weber, Box Elder, Tooele, Davis, and Salt Lake. Additionally, Salt Lake City and its suburbs are situated east and southeast of the lake. The Great Salt Lake is fed by three main tributaries and several other minor streams. The three tributaries draw their water from the Uinta Mountains. The Weber and Bear rivers start from the northern slope of the mountains, while the Jordan River is not fed directly from the Uinta Mountains, but flows from Utah Lake, which is fed by the Provo River that originates from the Uintas Mountains. There are several islands within the lake, although the exact number varies depending on the exact definition of what constitutes an "island." Additionally, as the lake's water level can vary significantly, what may be considered an island in the dry season could be considered a peninsula in the wet season.


The Great Salt Lake has a high concentration of salt, making the water unusually dense. The high salt concentration makes the lake habitable for very few species, including some forms of algae, brine flies, and brine shrimps. There are over 100 billion brine flies, which are the main food source for several bird’s species that migrate to the lake, such as waterfowl and shorebird. Some of the islands in the lake serve as nesting areas for various birds. Given its high salinity, the lake contains very few species of fish. However, some aquatic animals can be found in the lake’s main basin.


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