, Volume 466, Issue 1-3, pp 159-176

Thermal, mixing, and oxygen regimes of the Salton Sea, California, 1997–1999

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Abstract

The Salton Sea is a shallow (mean depth = 8 m; maximum depth = 15 m), saline (41–45 g l−1), intermittently mixing, 57 km long, 980 km2 lake located in the arid southwestern United States. The Sea is a wind driven system, with predominant winds paralleling the long axis of the lake, being strongest in spring and weakest in summer and fall. The Sea mixed daily or nearly daily between September and January. During this cooling period, moderate to high levels of dissolved oxygen (3–11 mg l−1) were found throughout the water column. Mean water column temperature ranged from a minimum of 13–14 °C in early January to a maximum of 30–34 °C in July–September. During most of this warming period, the Sea was thermally stratified but subject to periodic wind driven mixing events. Winds were stronger in spring 1998 than in 1997 or 1999, causing more rapid heating of the lake that year and also delaying onset of anoxic conditions in bottom waters. During summer months, mid-lake surface waters were sometimes supersatured with oxygen, and bottom waters were hypoxic or anoxic with sulfide concentrations > 5 mg l−1. Oxic conditions (> 1 mg O2 l−1) often extended a few meters deeper nearshore than they did well offshore as a consequence of greater mixing nearshore. Mixing events in late summer deoxygenated the entire water column for a period of days. Consumption of oxygen by sulfide oxidation likely was the principal mechanism for these deoxygenation events. Sulfide concentrations in surface waters were 0.5–1 mg l−1 approximately 3 days after one mixing event in mid-August 1999. These mixing events were associated with population crashes of phytoplankters and zooplankters and with large fish kills. In the southern basin, freshwater inflows tended to move out over the surface of the Sea mixing with saline lake water as a function of wind conditions. Salinity gradients often contributed more to water column stability than did thermal gradients in the southeasternmost portion of the lake.