Utah State University hosted its first Science Unwrapped lecture of the year on Friday night with professor Wayne Wurtsbaugh speaking on his work with the Great Salt Lake. Wurtsbaugh is a limnologist, or someone who studies inland waters, and has studied lakes across the world including Peru and Argentina.
During his lecture entitled “Great Salt Lake: Stranger in Your Backyard,” Wurtsbaugh explained that the Great Salt Lake is the largest lake west of the Mississippi River and the fourth largest terminal lake in the world.
The Great Salt Lake produces $57 million in brine shrimp collection, $1.131 billion in mining and industrial work and $136 million in recreation. The lake is also a migratory bird magnet that attracts over 2.5 million birds each year. Being the biggest producer of brine shrimp in the nation, there are 30 trillion brine shrimp in the lake.
One of the hazards of the Great Salt Lake is the toxic levels of cyanobacteria that accumulates in certain regions of the lake. There is also high levels of methyl-mercury that could potentially harm wildlife in the area.
However, the biggest threat to the Great Salt Lake is the fact it’s drying up. Because the lake relies on Bear River, Jordan River and Weber River to provide water, when these rivers’ waters are detoured or used for other purposes the lake’s water level drops significantly.
Wurstbaugh’s lecture is the first of a four part series of Science Unwrapped lectures that will focus on the Great Salt Lake. According to Nancy Huntly, a member on the Science Unwrapped Committee, the purpose of the lectures on the Great Salt Lake is to show how important the lake is not only to the state’s ecology but also economy.
“Everybody knows that it’s here but people don’t know a lot about it,” Huntly said, speaking of the lake.
The next lecture will be on Feb. 20 and will have wetlands ecology Karin Kettenrign presenting “Mighty Phragmites: Managing GSL Wetland Invaders.”