The most saline locations on Earth contain salt, or sodium chloride, and also other minerals and contain these in much greater quantities than the ocean. The following are the locations in the world with the greatest concentration of salt, with salinity levels that in many cases are inimical for life to survive in these places.
Don Juan Pond
Among the most saline locations on Earth, in terms of natural water bodies, the most saline is the Don Juan Pond in Antarctica. The pond has a salinity level of more than 40 per cent, which keeps the pond from completely freezing, even in Antarctic winters. The pond is located in the Victoria Land in Antarctica.
In a research project conducted by geologists from Brown University, USA, it was discovered very interestingly that the incredibly saline water is composed of water absorbed from the atmosphere by parched and saline soil. This is in addition to melted snow from the surrounding areas flowing into Don Juan Pond. It leads to a very dense saltwater mixture that keeps the pond from freezing. The water thus remains fluid in what is among the coldest and driest locations on Earth (Brown University, 2017). Don Juan pond is bereft of any aquatic life.
Fig: Don Juan Pond in Antarctica
Lake Vanda, another among the most saline locations on Earth, is also located in Victoria Land in Antarctica. The lake has a length of about 5 km and a maximum depth of about 69 m. Lake Vanda is a very peculiar lake, with salinity about 10 times that of seawater, and is more saline than the Dead Sea.
Lake Vanda is also more saline than Lake Assal in Djibouti, Africa, which is the most saline hypersaline lake outside the Antarctic continent. Lake Vanda’s peculiar geological condition can be called meromictic, in that deeper waters in the lake do not mix with the shallower waters. Although Lake Vanda does not act as a habitat for any species of fish, microorganisms such as algae might be found.
Fig: Lake Vanda in Antarctica
Located in western Djibouti, the literal translation of Lake Assal is the honey lake. The lake is close to the region near Djibouti City, the Great Rift Valley, Dikhil region, and the Tadjoura region, and is among the most saline locations on Earth.
Lake Assal is a volcanic lake, and is located at the top of the Great Rift Valley that passes through the Danakil Desert, and is composed of two principal divisions. The first is a dry bed of salt white in colour that is the result of the evaporation of water from the lake in earlier times, leaving behind the dry salt bed. The second portion is the very saline body of water in the lake.
The area in which lake Assal is located is also among the hottest regions on Earth, where temperatures can reach up to 50oC. Also the more one approaches the lake the warmer one feels because of volcanic activity. The salt content in the lake is harvested by the local inhabitants and the lake thus acts as a source of income for them. Although rich in salt and some other minerals, the area around the lake is very sparsely vegetated, and the lake does not support much life other than an abundant population of bacteria (naturalwondersofafrica.com, 2017).
Fig: Lake Assal in Djibouti
The Dead Sea
In Arabic the Dead Sea is called Al-Bahr Al Mayyit, or the Sea of Death. Although referred to as a sea, the Dead Sea is actually an extremely large landlocked salt lake between Israel and Jordan, located in Western Asia.
The Dead Sea is perhaps the most well known among the most saline locations on Earth. The Dead Sea is incidentally also the lowest body of water on Earth, 430 m below sea level, dropping about 1 m on a yearly basis.
The Al-Lisan Peninsula divides the lake into two disproportionate basins. About three-fourths of the lake’s total area is occupied by the northern basin, with a maximum depth of about 400 m. The remaining southern basin is considerably shallower, with an average depth of about 3 m. The subsidence of the lake has changed its geomorphology, with only the northern basin retaining its original dimensions despite great loss of water. The lake occupies a graben, which is a downfaulted part of the Earth’s crust, along a tectonic plate boundary, causing subsidence.
The Dead Sea is situated in a desert region and rainfall is scant. The lake is often seen with a think mist due to evaporation of its waters at about 55 inches a year. The salinity of the lake increases with depth, such that two different sorts of water masses can form in the lake. The salinity can reach about 300 parts per thousand at about 40 m depth. No form of life exists in the Dead Sea, among the most saline locations on earth, other than bacteria. Even fish coming in through flowing water into the Dead Sea cannot survive in it (Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2017).
Fig: The Dead Sea in Israel/Jordan
Garabogazkol Aylagy is a salt lagoon forming part of the Caspian Sea, and is located in a desolate region in Turkmenistan in Central Asia. At 11,265 sq km, it is the world’s largest salt lagoon and one of the most saline locations on Earth. In terms of salinity, Garabogazkol Aylagy is more saline than even the Dead Sea.
The water here is quite inimical to life, and one can see corpses of animals that have interacted with the environment in and around Garabogazkol Aylagy. Garabogazkol Aylagy is separated from the Caspian Sea by a narrow inlet of water, and this was blocked off in the 1980s over fears of discharges into the Caspian Sea. Following this Garabogazkol Aylagy began to dry off, such that pollution became a problem due to salt dust being blown around by winds. The water now is shallow and extremely salty.
The region is extremely difficult to travel to, and one would require a special permit. The only human activity in this location is salt harvesting, which also is a precarious activity.
Fig: Garabogazkol Aylagy in Turkmenistan
Qarhan Lake in China forms a scenic landscape, forming salt corals and pillars that can at times look like a crystalline wonderland. Qarhan Lake is one among a collection of salt lakes in a basin area and is among the most saline locations on Earth.
Located in China’s Qinghai Province, the area is extensively harvested for salt and minerals. Qarhan lake has extremely high levels of potassium salts, with about 274 million tonnes of potassium estimated in reserve. The lake was formed out of the deposits of salt by rivers in a basin area with not outlet. The lake also draws water through precipitation and groundwater.
However, evaporation can cause the water in the lake to be highly saturated with saline content. The lake serves as the largest potash production base in China (Shanghai Daily, 2010). Due to the high potassium levels, the water in Qarhan lake is extremely hostile to most life.
Fig: Qarhan Lake in China
Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide. It is among the most saline locations in the world, and is so because of similar reasons to Qarhan Lake. The high salinity in the Great Salt Lake is due to salts brought in by water flowing into the lake but with no outlet.
The lake is a remnant of a massive Ice Age lake – Lake Bonneville – that has left indentations and traces in the landscape around the Great Salt Lake. The lake is too saline to support most forms of aquatic life such as fish, and instead hosts certain species adapted to extreme salinity such as several species of algae, brine shrimp and brine flies (utah.com, 2017).
Fig: Great Salt Lake, Utah
Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni, also called the White Desert, is the largest salt flat in the world, and is located in Bolivia, South America. The salt flat is about 4,500 sq miles in area and is situated about 12,000 feet above sea level.
The salt flat is paved with white hexagonal tiles of salt that cover very wide expanses of areas. In the hot season the salt flat becomes a giant area littered with puddles, wherein one can see the reflection of the skies and clouds. The salt flat was formed due to the drying up of a lake in the area between 25,000 to 40,000 years ago (H. Mac Gregor, 2015). The entire area, although picturesque is a lifeless desert with sparse or literally no vegetation.
Fig: The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
Salar de Atacama
The Salar de Atacama, or the Chilean salt flat, is the second-largest salt flat in the world, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The area is rich in lithium reserves, so much so that in the year 2008, the area provided 30 per cent of global lithium carbonate.
The salt flat is located in a region of the Earth that has extremely dry conditions and there is much concern over drainage patterns in the Salar de Atacama.
Fig: The Salar de Atacama in Chile
Chot el Djerid
The Chot el Djerid in Tunisia, Africa is a seasonal saltwater lake that is almost fully dry for most of the year. Irrigated by groundwater sources, the area, among the most saline locations on Earth, has a thick saline crust of sodium chloride and is reddish in certain parts due to the presence of iron content.