Dust on the snow – we’re not in the clear with GSL yet

Despite what lawmakers and big industry want you to think, we are not in the clear with rising Great Salt Lake levels yet. Much needs to be done in the way of water conservation in the state, and not taking action will have major implications for the state’s most popular pastime- winter sports

A new study out of the University of Utah found that, in 2022, dust accelerated snow melt by 17 days, measured at Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

A Deseret News article reviewed the study, writing, “The Great Salt Lake Desert contributed 45% and the dry lake beds of Sevier Lake and Lake Tule contributed 17% combined, but the Great Salt Lake’s dust had the highest footprint per surface area.

Researcher McKenzie Skiles, assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Geography, said dust sources in the study area were mapped by source and surprisingly revealed the outsized role the Great Salt Lake plays”

One of the reasons for controlling desert dust, including from the dry lakebed of Great Salt Lake, is because when it lands on snow pack it decreases the reflectivity (albedo) of snow, increases the temperature of snow (by as much as ten degrees), and accelerates the melting of the snowpack. 

This creates a vicious cycle (positive feedback loop) because, as the lake shrinks, the increased dust accelerates snowmelt. This results in water loss to the lake which, in turn creates more dust, and the cycle goes on and on. Sending more water to the lake is critical.

Read the Deseret News’ coverage of the study here.

Find more on Great Salt Lake from UPHE here.