Utah's "The Greatest Snow on Earth" is in danger of melting, scientists warned, and it is caused by the rapidly growing populations around Wasatch Mountain.
In a recent paper, scientists from the University of Utah simultaneously measured the amount of dust in the air and snow to analyze how the receding levels of the Great Salt Lake is affecting the rate of snow melt in the mountain.
The paper was published online in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Dust Storms Caused By Exposed Lake Bed
Scientists observed five dust storm events in the spring of 2017, particularly the single storm that took place on April 13, which deposited the largest volume of dust. According to the scientists, the dust came from the exposed lake bed of the Great Salt Lake, which, since 1847, has steadily been shrinking because of humans who have been consuming the stream water replenishing it.
After collecting dust data — both airborne and in the snow — scientists ran a simulation to estimate where the dust came from and where they were heading. They found that the Great Salt Lake was the largest dust emitters, accounting for about 10 percent of the dust deposited.
The computer simulation also revealed that the dust blew north of the study plot, likely impacting the northern Wasatch.
"[T]he magnitude and frequency of airborne dust is impacted by human activity, altering landscapes makes dust more likely to get picked up by wind," stated McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. "We know that since settlement of the West, the amount of dust in the air has increased. And at the same time, due to upstream water withdrawals, lake levels are also declining, exposing even more dust."
How The Shrinking Great Salt Lake Is Changing Utah
The Wasatch Mountains is famous for its snow, bringing in skiers and snowboarders to the region. The "Greatest Snow on Earth" contributes over a billion dollars annually to the economy.
However, the dust storm in April 2017 added additional sunlight to the region because of the dust particles, causing the snow to melt a week earlier. As the Great Salt Lake, which is one of the largest bodies of water (by area) in the United States, continues to shrink, Skiles warned that similar events will become more frequent.
As of 2016, the lake area shrunk nearly 50 percent, reaching its lowest level in recorded history. Skiles hopes that the study would lead to policies that aim to protect the Great Salt Lake and minimize further shrinkage.