Scientists have documented rare salt formations for the first time on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in the American state of Utah. The formations could lead to better understanding of salt structures found on the planet Mars before they disappear.
The salt formations are appearing now in part because water levels at the large natural lake have lowered. Lack of rain and more demand for water from a growing population have left more shoreline uncovered.
The expanded shoreline means there are more places where water, warm and rich with the mineral sulfate, can rise to the surface from the springs below. When the water hits the cold air, it forms Glauber’s salt, also know as mirabilite.
“It has to be exposed to just the right conditions,” park official Allison Thompson told the Associated Press. She first saw the salt formations in October.
The formations have built up over the last several months, eventually creating flat structures formed on top of one another. From above, the structures are like a huge complex design laid over the sandy earth. An up-close look reveals tall formations gathered together like something out of science fiction.
There are now four formations at the Great Salt Lake shores, growing up to 1 meter tall and several meters wide.
Mirabilite formations are seen more often in places with cold temperatures such as the Antarctic. There are also signs of similar formations on Mars. So, study of the Great Salt Lake formations could offer information on how to examine salts found there.
Robert Zubrin is president of the Mars Society. The group was not involved in studying the Great Salt Lake formations. But he agrees they could hold information about whether groundwater or even life was ever supported on Mars.
Researchers do not have long to study the Great Salt Lake formations. As winter turns to spring, warming temperatures mean the salt will not continue to separate out of the water. Eventually melting snow will send water into the lake, raising lake levels and likely swallowing up the sites.
This is part of normal changes with the seasons and cycles of rain, says University of Utah professor Kevin Perry. He adds that overall the lake is not covering as much ground as it once did. Much of that is due to water being diverted away from rivers that feed the lake for farming and other uses before it reaches the body of water.
Researchers expect the rare salt formations to be gone by February.
I’m Pete Musto.
Lindsay Whitehurst reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
shore(s) – n. the land along the edge of an area of water, such as an ocean or lake
spring(s) – n. a source of water coming up from the ground
expose(d) – v. to leave something without covering or protection
science fiction – n. stories about how people and societies are affected by scientific developments in the future that exist only in your mind or imagination
cycle(s) – n. a set of events or actions that happen again and again in the same order
divert(ed) – v. to change the direction or use of something