Why is the Great Salt Lake pink? (Scientific Explanation)

After watching some pictures on Google or Instagram, you may have been surprised by the color of Great Salt Lake. Indeed, it seems like some photographers are able to take pictures of the Great Salt Lake where it is pink! Why is the Great Salt Lake pink?

The Great Salt Lake is pink thanks to salt-loving organisms that can develop in the salty water of the lake. One of those organisms is a carotenoid cell, which we can also find in carrots, and which turns the water pink.

How did the Great Salt Lake turn pink?

To understand why the Great Salt Lake turned pink, we need to understand the particularity of Great Salt Lake.

The Great Salt Lake has no outlet on the ocean. This means that water can only evacuate through evaporation. Thanks to this particularity, the salt rate is six times higher in the Great Salt Lake than in the sea.

Sometimes, when there is less water in the lake, the Great Salt Lake can be almost 10 times saltier than the sea! Indeed, in periods of low water, the Great Salt Lake can contain 28% of salt, whereas the ocean only contains 3% of salt.

Life is impossible in this lake. Impossible? Not really. And this is the reason why the Great Salt Lake is pink! Indeed, salt-loving organisms can develop in the lake. Some carotenoid cells spread thanks to the salt. These are the cells that carrots contain.

Maybe when you were a child, your parents were telling you that would turn orange if you ate a lot of carrots. Well, this is not entirely false. The Great Salt Lake turns pink thanks to these carotenoid cells.

Why is Great Salt Lake bicolor?

As mentioned before, a part of Great Salt Lake turned pink. But this is not the case for all the lake. Indeed, on several pictures, we can clearly see that there are two separate parts. One of them is blue, whereas the other one is pink. So, why is Great Salt Lake bicolor?

The Great Salt Lake is bicolor because a railroad separates the lake into two parts. In one part, the carotenoids develop, turning the lake pink. In the other part, blue-green algae develop, turning the water to a blue-greenish color.

Credits to Justin McFarland

Is the lake polluted?

There are some concerns about the pollution of the Great Salt Lake. First, some water quality officials said that there are contaminants in the lake that could harm.

Then, the assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Quality within the Department of Environmental Quality, said that mercury and selenium could be potentially dangerous. Finally, the director of the Great Salt Lake Water Keepers, also said he’s cautious.

Those concerns are ways to make sure that people know about possible issues. However, if you just swam once in the lake, you should not be concerned about that. This could be an issue for long-term exposure.

Can wildlife develop in the Great Salt Lake?

Having no outlet on the ocean, only evaporation evacuates the waters of this lake. The salt content there is thus on average six times higher than that of the sea and can sometimes reach 28% in periods of low water, against about 3% for the ocean! No fish can live in these conditions. However, the lake is a great natural sanctuary that hosts, among other things, many species of migratory birds (bald eagles, great blue herons, white-faced ibis …).

drone shot of a pink lake
In one part, carotenoids spread, turning the lake pink. Picture from @logandavidson

There are tons of other places to visit in the United States. You can visit Badlands National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Arches National Park, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, Adirondacks, Antelope Canyon, and Death Valley. We should preserve such places. Please travel responsibly and make sure you keep this place as beautiful as it currently is.

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