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The Great Salt Lake

The total amount of salt dissolved in Great Salt Lake is about 4.5 to 4.9 billion tons. As the lake rises, its salinity drops because the same amount of salt is dissolved in more water. The lower the lake level, the saltier the lake becomes. In historical time, the lake's salinity has ranged from a little less than 5 percent, (just above that of sea water), to nearly 27 percent (beyond which water cannot hold more salt).

You can easily float in Great Salt Lake if the water is salty enough. At the lake's average elevation of 4,200 feet, the south arm of the lake contains about 13 percent salt, which makes it salty enough for most people to float with little effort. When the lake is higher than 4,200 feet, it is less salty and therefore less buoyant. Swimmers float easily in the north arm because it is twice as salty as the south arm.

The chemical composition of Great Salt Lake is similar to that of typical ocean water. Sodium and chloride are the major ions in the water, followed by sulfate, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. For comparison, the table below shows the concentration of the six major ions in water of Great Salt Lake, a typical ocean, and the Dead Sea.


  • The largest U.S. lake west of the Mississippi River
  • The 4th largest terminal lake (no outlet) in the world
  • A remnant of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric freshwater lake that was 10 times larger than GSL
  • About 75 miles long, and 28 miles wide, and covers 1,700 square miles
  • Has a maximum depth of about 35 feet
  • Typically 3 to 5 times saltier than the ocean
  • Fish free, the largest aquatic critters are brine shrimp and brine flies
  • One of the largest migratory bird magnets in Western North America


Located ca. 17 mi west of Salt Lake City at Interstate 80, Exit 104.


free except of the State Park of Antelope Island

Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake
Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake

Spiral Jetty, northern end of Great Salt Lake
Spiral Jetty, northern end of Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake Desert
Great Salt Lake Desert



Document Information
Source: USGS; Utah. gov; Salt Lake City CVB, Eric Schramm, USPR, utah.com; magazinUSA.com
Last modified: 20090212
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