, Volume 15, Issue 1-2, pp 95-121
Date: 02 Dec 2008

Geochemical Evolution of Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA

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Abstract

The Great Salt Lake (GSL) of Utah, USA, is the largest saline lake in North America, and its brines are some of the most concentrated anywhere in the world. The lake occupies a closed basin system whose chemistry reflects solute inputs from the weathering of a diverse suite of rocks in its drainage basin. GSL is the remnant of a much larger lacustrine body, Lake Bonneville, and it has a long history of carbonate deposition. Inflow to the lake is from three major rivers that drain mountain ranges to the east and empty into the southern arm of the lake, from precipitation directly on the lake, and from minor groundwater inflow. Outflow is by evaporation. The greatest solute inputs are from calcium bicarbonate river waters mixed with sodium chloride-type springs and groundwaters. Prior to 1930 the lake concentration inversely tracked lake volume, which reflected climatic variation in the drainage, but since then salt precipitation and re-solution, primarily halite and mirabilite, have periodically modified lake-brine chemistry through density stratification and compositional differentiation. In addition, construction of a railway causeway has restricted circulation, nearly isolating the northern from the southern part of the lake, leading to halite precipitation in the north. These and other conditions have created brine differentiation, mixing, and fractional precipitation of salts as major factors in solute evolution. Pore fluids and diagenetic reactions have been identified as important sources and especially sinks for CaCO3, Mg, and K in the lake, depending on the concentration gradient and clays.