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Picture of Great Salt Lake at sunset.




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Great Salt Lake Nutrient and Trace Element Cycling

Project Chief: David Naftz, USGS Salt Lake City, Utah
Cooperator: Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources
Period of Project: July 2002 to September 2010


Basic hydrologic data and information on limnological processes operating in Great Salt Lake are largely lacking. Until the last two decades there was little concern about the Lake by the public at large. Flooding in the early 1980s, increased concern for avian resources, and the emergence of the brine shrimp industry created both public interest and management concern. Today a need exists for a better understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of the Lake, how the Lake functions, and how man is impacting these characteristics and functions.


These objectives are based on a long-term investigation of Great Salt Lake, Utah. Annual short-term objectives may differ based on budget and results of previous investigations.

  1. Define the physical constraints, circulation, and mixing rates of Great Salt Lake.
  2. Determine the nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorous species) budget.
  3. Quantify the occurrence and distribution of anthropogenic heavy metals, trace elements, and synthetic organic compounds.


This study will address the needs of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, while also fulfilling the USGS mission and relevancy as defined in the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Geological Survey. Specific USGS business activities addressed in the study will include water availability and quality and contaminated environments.


A general circulation model will be constructed that accounts for (1) river and ground water inputs, (2) bi-directional flow through railroad and highway causeways, (3) lake currents caused by wind forcing and density differences, and (4) mechanical and chemical interactions with the deeper, more saline waters. Data required for construction of the model include accurate and detailed bathymetric information, water volume and salinity load transfers between lake compartments, and the physical extent and density of the deeper saline layers where they exist. Bathymetric mapping and data collection on the extent and chemical characteristics of the deep brine in the south arm of the lake will be conducted. Data on water volume and salinity load transfers will be derived from the existing water-balance model. Construction and calibration of the physical circulation model will be initiated during FY2004 after further refinement of the conception system and selection of appropriate computer code. It is anticipated that model construction may take several years. Calibration will be verified by ADCP measurement of currents and by observations of the behavior of the deep brine layer after storms.


The following products will be delivered during the performance period: four quarterly progress reports, abstract and presentation at the Annual Society of Environmental, toxicology and chemistry meeting in November 2002, preliminary bathymetric map of south arm of GSL, briefing to Technical Advisory Group on Year 1 study results, and a detailed work plan proposing Year 2 tasks for GSLEP approval

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