THe social & Ecological IMPACTS of GSL REstoration

June 24, 2024
Above: Satellite image of the Great Salt Lake


Inland seas around the world are drying up due to increasing human water use and accelerating climate change, and their desiccation is releasing harmful dust that pollutes the surrounding areas during acute dust storms.

Using the Great Salt Lake in Utah as a case study, researchers show that dust exposure was highest among Pacific Islanders and Hispanic people and lower in white people compared to all other racial/ethnic groups, and higher for individuals without a high school diploma. Restoring the lake would benefit everyone in the vicinity by reducing dust exposure, and it would also decrease the disparities in exposure between different racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. These results are reported June 21 in the journal One Earth, co-authored by University of Utah researchers in the College of Science and the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. 

"People here in Utah are concerned about the lake for a variety of reasons -- the ski industry, the brine shrimp, the migratory birds, recreation -- and this study adds environmental justice and the equity implications of the drying lake to the conversation," says first author and sociologist Sara Grineski of the University of Utah. "If we can raise the levels of the lake via some coordinated policy responses, we can reduce our exposure to dust, which is good for everyone's health, and we can also reduce the disparity between groups."

The Great Salt Lake has been steadily drying since the mid-1980's, exposing its dry lakebed to atmospheric weathering and wind. Previous studies have shown that dust emissions from drying salt lakes produce fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is associated with numerous health effects and is the leading environmental cause of human mortality worldwide.

"We know that the dust from these drying lakes is very unhealthy for us, so the question becomes, what does that mean in terms of people's exposure to the dust, and what does it mean in terms of inequalities in exposure to that dust," says Grineski. "Are some people more likely to have to suffer the consequences to a greater degree?"

To answer this question, Grineski teamed up with a multidisciplinary group of, among others, U atmospheric scientists, geographers, and biologists, including Derek V. Mallia, Timothy W. Collins, Malcolm Araos, John C. Lin, William R.L. Anderegg and Kevin Perry.

You can read the full story in ScienceDaily.
Read more about this research in an article by Brian Maffly in @TheU,  and stories in The Standard Examiner and at Fox 13.