UTAH'S ENVIRONMENT

Dust From Great Salt Lake Negatively Impacts Utah Snowpack

Dec 21, 2018, 6:17 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A study published by a University of Utah researcher shows the shrinking Great Salt Lake has had an unexpected negative impact on Utah’s snowpack.

Experts believed that impact could diminish our water supply and shorten the ski season on the Wasatch Front.

Utah not only depends upon “The Greatest Snow on Earth” for skiing and snowmobiling, everyone needs that snowmelt for drinking water and to water lawns.

Declining water levels on the lake have exposed more earth. That exposed dust is one of the culprits melting Utah’s snow faster in the mountains.

“I basically came to ski,” said McKenzie Skiles, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah.

Skiles first wondered about the impact of dust on snow while backcountry skiing in Utah as an undergraduate student more than 10 years ago.

“I noticed that there was dust on snow deposition,” she said. “I didn’t really think about the impact at that point.”

As a mountain hydrologist, she started to understand how snow, darkened by dust, accelerates snowmelt, and started to study the process in Colorado. Two years ago, she started studying dust deposits in snow near Alta.

“I really wanted to understand if dust was impacting our snowmelt, and by how much,” she said.

Her team discovered large dust deposits throughout the spring, and focused on a dust storm in April 2017.

“We hypothesized that part of the dust might be coming from the dry lake bed of the Great Salt Lake,” she said. “When we did some computer simulations of that dust event, we (confirmed) the dust was coming from the dry lake bed. That’s really interesting because the Great Salt Lake has been in steady decline.”

Skiles’ research determined the dust storm accelerated snowmelt that spring by a week. Combined with other dust deposits, snowmelt was 25 percent faster that spring.

“(The exposed lake bed) will continue to be a dust source into the future,” she said.

The low Great Salt Lake water levels can be seen from the Layton foothills looking toward the Oquirrh Mountains on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (The low Great Salt Lake water levels can be seen from the Layton foothills looking toward the Oquirrh Mountains on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.)

Skiles and other researchers have studied even faster melting in southwestern Colorado.

“The dust in southern Colorado Rockies accelerates melt by a month on average, and up to two months in really heavy dust deposition years,” she said.

The dust there, tinted red by iron, melts snow even faster. Skiles said it’s the most important factor in snowmelt in that region.

“Air temperature doesn’t even play a role in snowmelt there because the dust impact is so dramatic,” she said.

Skiles next planned to compare the impact of dust on snowmelt here in the Rockies with other mountains globally.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Utah's Environment

The McFarland family farm in Weber County is dealing with rising costs for fuel, chemicals and mate...
Mike Anderson, KSL TV

Weber County family farm fights through herbicide shortages, drought, rising costs

A shortage of chemicals found in herbicides is putting even more rising costs on the backs of Utah farmers, in an already difficult year.
1 day ago
...
Amy Joi O’Donoghue, Deseret News & Dan Spindle, KSL TV

Can this technology be an answer to farmland water use in the West?

Utah's serious water shortage is forcing the agriculture community to change their ways. And it could change the future of farming across the state. KSL's Dan Spindle traveled to Emery County to see one high-tech solution in action.
24 days ago
Great Salt Lake Rowing Club on the lake. (Credit: Ray Boone)...
Ray Boone, KSL TV

‘It’s just idyllic’: Great Salt Lake Rowing Club plows ahead, despite low water levels

Rowing may not be the first spot that comes to mind when you think of popular recreation spots in Utah, but one enthusiastic group is working to change that perception.
26 days ago
The rules are already set for when it's ok to set off fireworks for two holidays in Utah this July....
Ladd Egan, KSL TV

New maps show where fireworks are restricted this summer

With the start of summer comes concern over fireworks as cities work to fine-tune their fireworks restriction maps.
29 days ago
New drought research by Rob Sowby, a water resources engineer at Brigham Young University shows th...
Jed Boal, KSL TV

BYU study: Half of Utah households overwater, damage landscapes

The latest drought-focused research out of Brigham Young University showed that as many as half of Utah’s households are still watering their landscapes too much.
1 month ago
...
Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair

Lehi man ordered to rip out his new xeriscape landscaping by his HOA

As he was building a new home in Lehi, Jared Hadley was eager to heed the calls to put in landscaping that uses little or no water. But you know who doesn't like it? Hadley’s homeowner's association.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Dust From Great Salt Lake Negatively Impacts Utah Snowpack