Climate change and increasing demand for fresh water are two of the biggest threats to saline lakes worldwide, a marine scientist said Monday.
Robert Jellison of the Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, was a keynote speaker at this week's International Conference on Salt Lake Research and Friends of Great Salt Lake Issues Forum at Fort Douglas/University of Utah.
"It will threaten salt lakes," Jellison said of the rising demand for fresh water. He noted that issue is particularly grim in developing nations.
He said many saltwater lakes have become smaller or desiccated in recent years because of water diversion for agriculture.
Jellison also said saline lakes are particularly sensitive to global climate change. That's because they respond quickly to climate changes, and global climate models consistently predict decreased precipitation over subtropical land masses.
He said some salt lakes will be losers and others will be winners in global climate change. Even the increased use of biofuels will impact saline lakes, by using more water resources.
"The future of many saline lakes will be decided over the next several decades, as the direct economic value of freshwater inflows are weighed against the less easily measured ecosystem goods and services provided by these unique ecosystems," he said.
He said the challenge of this century is to move to a sustainable economy and society.
"We need to mobilize significant resources. ... Long live salt lakes."
Jellison said there are hundreds of inland saline lakes worldwide, all featuring remarkable ecosystems. Beyond the Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake, Pyramid Lake and the Salton Sea, others are widespread throughout arid and sub-arid regions. Overall, they constitute 45 percent of the total volume of inland waters (or 11 percent if the Caspian Sea, which is sometimes classified with oceans, is excluded).
Michael Mower, planning coordinator for the state of Utah, also spoke at the issues forum Monday morning. He said the Great Salt Lake is a wonderful gem, "but it's delicate."
He said the challenge locally is finding the balance between man and the lake.
It's fascinating, Mower said, that in the 19th century and early 20th century, residents fixated on the Great Salt Lake as their prime source of recreation.
"The Great Salt Lake was where you went," he said of that era.
Contrast that with now, when people fixate on ski resorts and national parks.
Mower also said he can't forget the importance of the lake to birds and mentioned the incredible views at the Spiral Jetty.
Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker also spoke and said he's been a fan of the Great Salt Lake since he moved here more than 30 years ago.
"We have not treated the lake very well," he said referring to man-made pressures on the lake.
The forum continues through Friday, with some field trips and other events.For more information, go to www.isslr.org or www.fogsl.org.