, Volume 466, Issue 1–3, pp 159–176

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

  • James M. Watts
  • Brandon K. Swan
  • Mary Ann Tiffany
  • Stuart H. Hurlbert


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.

saline lake polymixis stratification wind sulfide anoxia eutrophication 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Almgren, T. & I. Hagström, 1974. The oxidation rate of sulphide in sea water. Wat. Res. 8: 395–400.Google Scholar
  2. American Public Health Association, 1998. Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater. 20th edn. American Public Health Association, Washington: 1162 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Arnal, R. E., 1961. Limnology, sedimentation, and microorganisms of the Salton Sea, California. Geol. Soc. am. Bull. 72: 427–478.Google Scholar
  4. Bagarinao, T. & R. D. Vette, 1989. Oxidative detoxification of sulfide by mitochondria of the California killifish Fundulus parvipinnis and the speckled sanddab Citharichthys stigmaeus. J. comp. Physiol. 160: 519–527.Google Scholar
  5. Bagarinao, T., 1992. Sulfide as an environmental factor and toxicant: tolerance and adaptations in aquatic organisms. Aquat. Tox. 24: 21–62.Google Scholar
  6. Bain, R. C., A. M. Caldwell, R. H. Clawson, H. L. Scotten & R. G. Wills, 1970. Salton Sea California: water quality and ecological management considerations. U.S. Dept. Interior, Federal Water Quality Administration, Pacific Southwest Region: 53 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Black, G. F., 1988. Description of the Salton Sea sport fishery 1982- 1983. California Fish and Game Administrative Report 88–9.Google Scholar
  8. Blaney, H. F., 1955. Evaporation from the stabilization of Salton Sea water surface. Am. Geophys. Union. Trans. 36: 3633–640.Google Scholar
  9. Carpelan, L. H., 1958. The Salton Sea: physical and chemical characteristics. Limnol. Oceanogr. 3: 373–386.Google Scholar
  10. Carpelan, L. H., 1961. Physical and chemical characteristics. In Walker, B.W. (ed.), The Ecology of the Salton Sea, California in Relation to the Sportfishery. Calif. Dept. Fish. Game, Fish Bull. 113: 1–204.Google Scholar
  11. Chen, K. Y. & J. C. Morris, 1972. Kinetics of oxidation of aqueous sulfide by O2. Environ. Sci. Technol. 6: 529–537.Google Scholar
  12. Cline, J. D. & F. A. Richards, 1969. Oxygenation of hydrogen sulfide in sea water at constant salinity, temperature and pH. Environ. Sci. Technol. 3: 838–834.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, M., J. Morrison & E. P. Glenn, 1999. Haven or hazard: The ecology and future of the Salton Sea. Pacific Institute, Oakland, California: 64 pp.Google Scholar
  14. Cook, C. B. & G. T. Orlob, 1997. Field monitoring and hydrodynamic modeling of the Salton Sea, CA, environmental and coastal hydraulics: protecting the aquatic habitat, Vol. 1, 27th Congress of the International Association for Hydraulic Research, Aug 1997: 659–664.Google Scholar
  15. Cooper, J. J. & D. L. Koch, 1984. Limnology of a desert terminal lake, Walker Lake, Nevada, U.S.A. Hydrobiologia 118: 275–292.Google Scholar
  16. Detwiler, P., M. F. Coe & D. M. Dexter, 2002. Benthic invertebrates of the Salton Sea: distribution and seasonal dynamics. Hydrobiologia/Developments in Hydrobiology (in press).Google Scholar
  17. Eckert W. & D. K. Hambright, 1996. Seasonal and vertical distributions of temperature, pH, oxygen, and sulfide in Lake Kinneret. Limnologica 26: 345–351.Google Scholar
  18. Ehrhardt, M. & A. Wenck, 1984. Wind pattern and hydrogen sulfide in shallow waters of the Western Baltic Sea, a cause and effect relationship? Meeresforsch 30: 101–110.Google Scholar
  19. Ferrari, R. L. & P. Weghorst, 1997. Salton Sea 1995 hydrographic GPS survey. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Water Resources Services. Denver, Colorado: 23 pp.Google Scholar
  20. Galat, D. L., E. L. Lider, S. Vigg & S. R. Robertson, 1981. Limnology of a large, deep, North American terminal lake, Pyramid Lake, Nevada, U.S.A. Hydrobiologia 82: 281–317Google Scholar
  21. Goldhaber, M. & I. R. Kaplan, 1974. The sulfur cycle, In Goldberg, E. (ed.), The Sea, Vol. 5, Marine Chemistry. Wiley, New York: 569–665.Google Scholar
  22. Hagerman L. & B. Vismann, 1995. Anaerobic metabolism in the shrimp Crangon crangon exposed to hypoxia, anoxia and hydrogen sulfide. Mar. Biol. 123: 235–240.Google Scholar
  23. Hely, A. G., G. H. Hughes & B. Irelan, 1966. Hydrologic regimen of Salton Sea, California. U. S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Paper 486–C: 32 pp.Google Scholar
  24. Hutchinson, G. E., 1957. A Treatise on Limnology, volume 1. Wiley & Sons: 1015 pp.Google Scholar
  25. Huxtable, R. J., 1986. Biochemistry of Sulfur. Plenum Press: 445 pp.Google Scholar
  26. Idso, S. B., 1973. On the concept of lake stability. Limnol. Oceanogr. 18: 681–683.Google Scholar
  27. Imberger, J., 1985. Thermal characteristics of standing waters: an illustration of dynamic processes. Hydrobiologia 125: 7–29.Google Scholar
  28. Llanso, R. J., 1991. Tolerance of low dissolved oxygen and hydrogen sulfide by polychaete Streblospio benedicti. J. exp. mar. Biol. Ecol. 153: 165–178.Google Scholar
  29. MacIntyre, S., 1993. Vertical mixing in a shallow, eutrophic lake: possible consequences for the light climate of phytoplankton. Limnol. Oceanogr. 38: 798–817.Google Scholar
  30. Millero, F. J., 1986. The thermodynamics and kinetics of the hydrogen sulfide system in natural waters. Mar. Chem. 18: 121–147.Google Scholar
  31. Mitteilung, K., 1988. Lake mixis and internal phosphorus dynamics. Arch. Hydrobiol. 113: 629–638.Google Scholar
  32. Parsons, 1986. Proposed water conservation program and initial water transfer, environmental impact report. Draft. Imperial Irrigation District, Imperial California.Google Scholar
  33. Reifel, K. M., M. P. McCoy, M. A. Tiffany, T. E. Rocke, C. C. Trees, S. B. Barlow, D. J. Faulkner & S. H. Hurlbert, 2001. Pleurochrysis pseudoroscoffensis (Prymnesiophyceae) blooms on the surface of the Salton Sea, California. Hydrobiologia 466 (Dev. Hydrobiol. 162): 177–185.Google Scholar
  34. Reifel, K. M., M. P. McCoy, M. A. Tiffany, T. E. Rocke, S. H. Hurlbert & D. J. Faulkner, 2002. The possible importance of algal toxins in the Salton Sea, California. Hydrobiologia/ Developments in Hydrobiology (in press).Google Scholar
  35. Riedel, R., L. Caskey & B. Costa-Pierce, 2002. Fish biology and fisheries ecology of the Salton Sea. Hydrobiologia/ Developments in Hydrobiology (in press).Google Scholar
  36. Romero, J. R. & J. M. Melack, 1996. Sensitivity of vertical mixing in a large saline lake to variation in runoff. Limnol. Oceanogr. 41: 955–965.Google Scholar
  37. Setmire, J. G., R. A. Schroeder, J. N. Densmore, S. L. Goodbred, D. J. Auden & W. R. Radke, 1993. Detailed study of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1988-90. U.S. Geol. Surv. Water-Resources Investigations Report 93-4014: 102 pp.Google Scholar
  38. Smith, L. L., D. M. Oseid, I. R. Adelman & S. J. Broderius, 1976. Effects of hydrogen sulfide on fish and invertebrates, Parts I and II. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: 250 pp.Google Scholar
  39. Snoeyink, V. L. & D. Jenkins, 1980. Water Chemistry. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. New York, NY: 430 pp.Google Scholar
  40. Talling, J. F., 1966. The annual cycle of stratification and phytoplankton growth in Lake Victoria (East Africa). Int. Rev. ges. Hydrobiol. 51: 545–621.Google Scholar
  41. Tetra Tech, 2000. Salton Sea restoration project environmental impact statement/environmental impact report. Draft. Tetra Tech Inc., Lafayette, California: 630 pp.Google Scholar
  42. Theede, H., A. Ponat, K. Hiroki & C. Schlieper, 1969. Studies on the resistance of marine bottom invertebrates to oxygen-deficiency and hydrogen sulfide. Mar. Biol. 2: 325–337.Google Scholar
  43. Tiffany, M. A., B. K. Swan, J. M. Watts & S. H. Hurlbert, 2002. Metazooplankton dynamics in the Salton Sea, 1997-1999. Hydrobiologia/Developments in Hydrobiology (in press).Google Scholar
  44. Tostrud, M. B., 1997. The Salton Sea 1906-1996: computed and measured salinities and water levels. Colorado River Board of California, Glendale, California.Google Scholar
  45. Vismann, B., 1991. Sulfide tolerance: physiological mechanisms and ecological implications. Ophelia 34: 1–27.Google Scholar
  46. Walker, B. W., R. R. Whitney & G. W. Barlow, 1961. The ecology of the Salton Sea, California in relation to the sportfishery. The Calif. Dept. Fish. Game, Fish Bull. 113: 1–204.Google Scholar
  47. Wetzel, R. G., 1983. Limnology. New York, Saunders College Publishing, Inc.: 767 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • James M. Watts
    • 1
  • Brandon K. Swan
    • 1
  • Mary Ann Tiffany
    • 1
  • Stuart H. Hurlbert
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology & Center for Inland WatersSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoU.S.A

Personalised recommendations