Researchers Study Damage To Multi-Use Utah Salt Flats

Sep 6, 2016

Scientists from the University of Utah will be studying the Salt Flats in Utah for the next two years. 

The Bonneville Salt Flats have attracted racers who want to break a land speed record for years. The texture and thickness of the salt is perfect for going fast—really fast.

But beyond just the racing, the area has one of the largest potash mines. Potash has a lot potassium and is sold as a fertilizer. The flats also offer a unique recreational area.

Brenda Bowen, geology professor at the University of Utah wants to study what all of this activity is doing to the area—specifically the thickness of the salt.

“Everybody sort of has their own reason why they value this environment," Bowen said. "And so what we’re trying to understand is how is it changing through time, through space, how are these different uses impacting it, how are just background environmental changes impacting it? We know that salt in the geologic record is ephemeral and short lived—how long should we expect it to exist on this surface right now given these conditions."

Bowen says that part of the longer term work is learning the impacts of global warming. Although this area may just look like a salty, dry dessert, it’s full of life and transformation.

“It is so dynamic and changing. It is ephemeral so it changes all the time," Bowen said. "In fact, you know, I’ve been out there so many times—dozens and dozens of times—and every time it’s a little bit different. The conditions are slightly different, the salt is slightly different, the surface is different; it’s actually a lake for much of the year.”

The last time this type of research was done was in 2003.