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Lakebed tours of mirabilite mounds ending as Great Salt Lake slowly rises

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jan 21, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — The water level of the Great Salt Lake is rising, which is a positive sign for the drought in Utah.

This is probably the last weekend that walking tours on the lakebed will be offered as a chance to see some of nature’s extremely unique creations: mirabilite mounds.

“We’re still doing the tours and everything and bringing people out there,” said Angelic Anderson, a park ranger at the Great Salt Lake who leads tours there.

With low water levels, people are finding things created or left behind on the lakebed — such as the mirabilites. These are sulfur-based salt formations that were first seen in mounds on the lakebed in the fall of 2019.

“It’s so neat to watch them form, but yeah, if the lake level were up to what it was, we would not be seeing them,” said Anderson.

“The way that they’re formed is what [makes] the mirabilites so unique,” explained Aderson. “Mirabilite itself is very common in saline lakes around the world, but the formation of them has only been found in three other places in the world besides the Great Salt Lake — and those being prehistoric central Spain, Arctic and Antarctica, so hard places to get to.”

The mirabilite slush is visible around the lake and in other places too, but the mounds are what is rare to see.

“The ideal conditions that these mirabilites have — being in subfreezing temperatures and being exposed and not covered with the lake — let them grow into mounds, which is pretty neat,” said Anderson.

The low levels also exposed the wreckage of different ships that were left behind over the years. Since the lake level has risen about a foot in the past couple weeks, less of the lakebed is visible — but that’s a good sign for the Great Salt Lake.

Anderson said she took a photo of the wreckage marking the water line on Dec. 28. Now, that piece of the ship isn't even visible.

The water levels have risen more now than they did all of last year. At Gov. Spencer Cox’s State of the State address earlier this week, he talked about the shrinking lake.

“Earlier this month, a report predicted that in just five short years, the Great Salt Lake will completely disappear. Let me be clear: we are not going to let that happen,” Cox said.

It’s unclear how these water levels will be through the rest of the year, but officials say their work with studying the lake and helping educate people about it will continue.

“We get international visitors, as well as local, and there’s still a decent amount of visitors that come and they’re like, 'I never knew this was here, I’m so glad I stopped by,' and [they] talk about something new they learned. It's way neat to see because everyone comes away with something different,” said Anderson.