Most people imagine a parched desert with a saltwater lake in it, but saltwater lakes can be found in any region and climate. The world’s oceans have a salinity content that hovers around 3.5%, whereas salt lakes are considerably higher than that, with the saltiest coming in at almost 40%.
What are 9 of the lakes worldwide that are saltier than the ocean? This article will discuss such lakes.
1. Lake Assal
Djibouti is home to Lake Assal, which happens to be the lowest point geologically in Africa. It is also the third-lowest place on earth. It is ten times saltier than the ocean, and it is the third saltiest body of water on the planet.
No real ecosystem exists in the water, though there is bacterial life. There are migratory animals like camels, antelopes, and birds that stop by the lake, and you can also find some wandering insects and lizards. None except the bacteria are full-time residents.
There’s still an active salt trade in this region that some local tribes rely on as their main source of survival. There are salt deposits in the lake that are over 200 ft tall, so Lake Assal has been an abundant resource for centuries.
2. Lake Urmia
Pelicans and flamingoes make temporary homes in these salty waters, and the lake is home to a type of brine shrimp. A variety of other birds breed on the flats around the lake, and it’s an important migratory stop for even more birds.
The brine shrimps are called Artemias, and they’re known as animal extremophiles because of the inhospitable conditions they call home. Artemias exist in a few salt lakes around the world, so they aren’t exclusive to Lake Urmia. Each lake has a different variation of this brine shrimp.
Drought and a need for agricultural water have taxed the lake. This has caused previously unexposed lakebeds to be brought to the surface and has raised the lake’s salinity, which may damage animal habitats.
3. Sambhar Salt Lake
Sambhar Salt Lake is the largest lake in India, and there is a variety of different kinds of animals that live in and on it. The monsoons cause a dramatic fluctuation of water in this shallow lake, turning the area into a saline wetland.
About 9% of the salt produced by India is done so at this lake. There is competition between salt producers, with some using illegal methods that are compromising the ecosystem of the lake.
Flamingoes and lots of other birds use this area in their migration. Bacteria and algae thrive in the water, which supports the life that attracts the birds.
4. Lake Baskunchak
Lake Baskunchak has been providing salt for trade since the 8th century, and today, 80% of Russia’s salt production happens at this lake. It is in southern Russia and is a hot tourist attraction because it is believed the lake’s clay has healing and therapeutic properties, though there is no science to back up this claim.
5. Pangong Lake
This is the highest saltwater lake in the world and is in the Himalayas. Unlike many salt lakes, this lake completely freezes in the winter. Ducks and marmots are known to stroll the shores looking for crustaceans to eat, and some snails can tolerate the saltwater.
Sitting at over 14,000 feet in elevation, Pangong Lake is the highest saltwater lake in the world.
6. Mono Lake
Tufa towers spring out of Mono Lake, which is east of Yosemite in California. Ten animal species live solely in Mono Lake’s sediment and water. They are alkali flies, brine shrimp, and a specialized extremophile.
Eight types of nematodes, or roundworms, that live in Mono Lake can survive in conditions with arsenic levels 500 times stronger than what it takes to kill a human. Lots of birds nest here, so it’s a great destination for bird watchers.
7. The Great Salt Lake
Utah is home to the Great Salt Lake, with its capital named after this big body of water. It is the largest salt lake in not only the United States but the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the saltiest salt lakes on earth.
There are three rivers that feed into this lake, but the water’s journey ends in the lake, as there is no outlet. The lake’s water levels can vary wildly based on climate patterns and rainfall. On average, the lake is about 15 feet deep, which makes it pretty shallow for a lake.
There are algae that grow in the lake that form the basis of a small ecosystem. There are invertebrates, sand flies, and brine shrimp that call the lake home full time.
8. Don Juan Pond
Even Antarctica has a salt lake, and it’s so salty it hardly ever freezes, even when it’s 50 below outside. Because of the harsh conditions at this lake’s location, only things like fungi and yeast can grow.
Don Juan Pond is super salty at about 40% salinity, and its almost out of this world landscape provides scientists with the opportunity to study terrains like those found on Mars. It is the saltiest body of water in the world.
9. The Dead Sea
Existing between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is really a landlocked lake. It got its name because it was believed it was too salty for any life to exist there, but it was discovered that there are, in fact, fungi that can withstand extreme conditions.
The Dead Sea is also the lowest elevation you’ll find on land, which contributes to why it can be so salty. It boasts a 34% salinity level, which is one of the highest in the world.
How is a Salt Lake Formed?
There are a lot of freshwater lakes on the planet, but saltwater lakes are the largest and oldest. What differentiates a saltwater lake from a freshwater lake is whether there is drainage of that lake’s water out into the ocean. If there isn’t, and if the lake evaporates faster than rain goes into it, it becomes salty.
When rain falls on land and gathers in lakes, it dissolves the salt in the rocks and ground. This water then flows through a river into the ocean with all the dissolved salt, which is why the ocean is salty. The constant stream of fresh water from the lake to the river and out into the ocean keeps freshwater fresh.
Saltwater lakes have no rivers connecting them to the oceans. Their water collects and concentrates over time, and the salt the moving water is dissolving has nowhere to go. That’s how salt lakes accumulate salt.