An examination of the sensitivity of the Great Salt Lake to changes in inputs
The Great Salt Lake is a closed basin lake in which level and volume fluctuate due to differences between inflows and outflows. The only outflow is evaporation, which depends directly on lake area and salinity, both of which depend on lake volume. The lake’s level, volume, and area adjust to balance, on average, precipitation and streamflow inflows by evaporation. In this paper, we examine the sensitivity of lake volume changes to precipitation, streamflow, and evaporation and the interactions among these processes and lake area and salinity related to volume. A mass balance model is developed to generate representative realizations of future lake level from climate and streamflow inputs simulated using the k-nearest-neighbor method. Climate and salinity are used to estimate evaporation from the lake using a Penman model adjusted for the salinity-dependent saturation vapor pressure. Our results show that fluctuation in streamflow is the dominant factor in lake level fluctuations, but fluctuations in lake area that modulate evaporation and precipitation directly on the lake are also important. The results also quantify the sensitivity of lake level to changes in streamflow and air temperature inputs. They predict that a 25% decrease in streamflow would reduce lake level by about 66 cm (2.2 feet), while a þ4C air temperature increase would reduce lake level by about 34 cm (1.1 feet) on average. This sensitivity is important in evaluating the impacts of climate change or streamflow change due to increased consumptive water use on the level of the lake.