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Saline Lakes

The largest, highest & lowest lakes of the world!

Soil & Water Conservation Society of Metro Halifax (SWCSMH)

January 05, 2006      Limnology      Our related web pages


What value of salt concentration demarcates fresh from saline water?

The term salinity needs careful definition to avoid confusion with the oceanographic definition: for limnologists, salinity is the sum total of ions! A conventional value, now widely accepted, and with atleast some physico-chemical and biological basis, is 3 g/L or 3 o/oo. This salinity is near, i) the calcite branch point, ii) the low points between modes when the frequency distribution of salinity of all lakes over 100 sq.km area is plotted logarithmically, iii) the salinity at which most humans first begin to taste salt, and iv) the salinity below which biota typical of higher salinities are not found and above which the freshwater biota begins quickly to disappear or not extend.

The global importance of salt lakes

Table-1: Volumes of water in global water compartments.
CompartmentVolume
(1000 cu.km)
Per cent
Oceans1,370,00097.61
Glaciers, ice, snow29,0002.08
Subsurface4,0670.295
Freshwater lakes, rivers1260.009
Saline lakes1040.008
Atmosphere140.001
Footnote; Modified from Wetzel (1983) after various sources

One should note that 70 percent of all inland salt water is held in the Caspian Sea. But in this regard, note that about 40 percent of global freshwater is held in Lake Baikal and the Great Lakes of North America. Notwithstanding, many of the world's largest lakes are saline (Table-2).

Table-2: Major morphometric parameters of some important salt lakes >500 sq.km in area.
LakeArea
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
Max. Depth
(m)
Caspian422,00079,0001871,072
Aral¹66,0001,0641669
Balkhash22,000122627
Eyre, North²7,0002336
Issyk-kul6,3001,730275702
Urmia5,000±25516
Qinghai4,6008517.527
Great Salt Lake4,40019410
Van3,60019153550
Dead Sea940136145330
Footnotes: ¹- 1960 data (i.e. before decrease in size); ²- When full.

Major values and threats

Economically, salt lakes are important as a source of minerals (especially halite, but including also uranium, zeolites, lithium, borax and many other minerals), water (by diversion of inflows), fish, biochemical products (e.g. glycerol and β-carotene from Dunaliella, protein from Spirulina), and foodstuffs for aquaculture (especially Artemia cysts). Many are of cultural significance (e.g. the Dead Sea). A large number has high aesthetic values both as naturally attractive environments (e.g. Mono Lake, California), and as habitats for certain biota (notably flamingos).

The global distribution of salt lakes

Salt lakes are widespread, occur on all continents, and are often present not far from centres of population. They are not abundant in very dry areas though, in true deserts where annual precipitation is <25 mm, but they are otherwise widespread in drylands. Within each continent, they are also widely dispersed and extensive.

Table-3: Geographical distribution of arid and semi-arid regions, i.e. regions where most salt lakes occur. Not included are data for hyper-arid regions (5.7 percent of world total). Modified after various authors.
RegionAridSemi-aridTotal
106km2percent106km2percent106km2percent
Africa6.220.45.116.911.337.3
America2.14.94.711.06.815.9
Middle East3.049.71.016.04.065.7
Asia4.010.55.313.99.324.4
Australia3.849.01.520.05.369.0
Europe0.00.10.22.30.22.4
World19.114.117.913.236.927.3

Table-4: Salinity and principal morphometric features of some large North American salt lakes. Data from various sources and relate to particular times.
LakeSalinity
(¹o/oo)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
Max. Depth
(m)
Great Salt Lake150-2804,40019410
Salton Sea338916.87.612
Pyramid5.344626.459103
Big Quill43-533070.51.52.6
Mono951582.815.245.7
Walker10.61503.52033
Footnote: ¹- Conversions from g/L have been made where appropriate

Table-5: Salinity and principal morphometric features of seven salt lakes in East Africa. Data from various sources and relate to particular times.
LakeSalinity
(o/oo)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
Max. Depth
(m)
Natron3409000.35±0.4±0.5
Magadi114950.05±0.5±0.6
Nakuru10-12040±0.061.53
Bogoria50330.185.49
Elmenteita29.5200.020.91.1
Simbi130.290.0041323
Sonachi6.80.180.000747

Table-6: Salinity and some important morphometric features of seven large lakes in Russia and Central Asia. Data relate to time of highest water-levels.
LakeSalinity
(g/L)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Max. Depth
(m)
Caspian10-12422,00079,0001,072
Aral8-1066,0001,06469
Balkhash0.5-722,00012227
Issyk-Kul5-66,3001,730702
Chany1.5-43,2457.110
Alakul5-72,650N/A45
Tengiz3-191,590N/A8

Table-7: Salinity and some important morphometric features of seven large lakes in China. Data modified but drawn from several authors.
LakeSalinity
(g/L)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
 Max. Depth
(m)
Qinghai (Qinghai)12.54,6008517.5 27
Lop Nor (Sinkiang)53,0105 1-2 
Namu (Tibet)31,96176.839 55
Selin (Tibet)191,62849.230 60
Zarinanmu (Tibet)1299666 N/A
Dabuxun (Qinghai)380184-334<1 0.4-1 
Dalai5.52381.67 N/A

Table-8: Salinity and principal morphometric features of five large salt lakes on the Iranian plateau and in the Middle East. Data modified from various sources.
LakeSalinity
(g/L)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
Max. Depth
(m)
Urmia (Iran)>3005,000±25516
Van Golu (Turkey)243,6001953550
Niriz (Iran)7-561,8101.81.7
Tuz Golu (Turkey)>3001,6000.5±2
Dead Sea (Israel/Jordan)>300940136145330

Table-9: Salinity and principal morphometric features of four Australian lakes. Data modified from various sources.
LakeSalinity
(g/L)
Area
(sq.km)
Volume
(cu.km)
Mean depth
(m)
Max. Depth
(m)
Eyre North¹<50 - >3008,43027.73.35.7
Corangamite²30-502330.52.94.9
Bullen Merri²94.90.239.366
Gnotuk²7020.0315.318.5
Footnotes: ¹- Data relate to periods when lake is full. ²- Permanent.

References:


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