10 Saltiest Bodies of Water on Earth

10. Salton Sea (4.4%)


The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside Counties in Southern California. Its surface is 234.0 ft (71.3 m)[1] below sea level. The deepest point of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo Rivers, as well as agricultural runoff, drainage systems, and creeks.

Over millions of years, the Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley and deposited soil (creating fertile farmland) and building up the terrain, constantly changing the course of the river. For the next thousands of years, the river has flowed into and out of the valley alternately, creating a freshwater lake, an increasingly saline lake, and a dry desert basin, depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. The cycle of filling has been about every 400–500 years and has repeated itself many times. The latest natural cycle occurred around 1600–1700 as remembered by Native Americans who talked with the first settlers. Fish traps still exist at many locations, and the Native Americans evidently moved the traps depending upon the cycle.

The most recent inflow of water from the now heavily controlled Colorado River was accidentally created by the engineers of the California Development Company in 1905. In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, irrigation canals were dug from the Colorado River into the valley. Due to fears of silt buildup, a cut was made in the bank of the Colorado River to further increase the water flow. The resulting outflow overwhelmed the engineered canal, and the river flowed into the Salton Basin for two years, filling the historic dry lake bed and creating the modern sea, before repairs were completed.[2] While it varies in dimensions and area with fluctuations in agricultural runoff and rainfall, the Salton Sea is about 15 miles (24 km) by 35 miles (56 km). With an estimated surface area of 343 square miles (890 km2) or 350 square miles (910 km2), the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California.[3][4] The average annual inflow is less than 1,200,000 acre feet (1.5 km3), which is enough to maintain a maximum depth of 44 feet (13 m) and a total volume of about 6,000,000acre feet (7.4 km3). However, due to changes in water apportionments agreed upon for the Colorado River under the Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003, the overall water level of the sea is expected to decrease significantly between 2013 and 2021.[5]

The lake’s salinity, about 56 grams per litre (0.0020 lb/cu in), is greater than that of the waters of the Pacific Ocean (35 g/l (5.6 oz/imp gal)), but less than that of the Great Salt Lake (which ranges from 50 to 270 g/l (8.0 to 43.3 oz/imp gal)). Recently, the concentration has been increasing at a rate of about 3% per year. [6] About 4,000,000 short tons (3.6×109 kg) of salt are deposited in the valley each year.[7]

9. Mono Lake (5-9.9%)


Mono Lake (/ˈmn/ moh-noh) is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.

Mono Lake occupies part of the Mono Basin, an endorheic basin that has no outlet to the ocean. Dissolved salts in the runoff thus remain in the lake and raise the water’s pH levels and salt concentration. The tributaries of Mono Lake include Lee Vining Creek, Rush Creek and Mill Creek which flows through Lundy Canyon.[4]

The basin was formed by geological forces over the last five million years: basin and range crustal stretching and associated volcanism and faulting at the base of the Sierra Nevada.[5] Five million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was an eroded set of rolling hills and Mono Basin and Owens Valley did not yet exist.

From 4.5 to 2.6 million years ago, large volumes of basalt were extruded around what is now Cowtrack Mountain (east and south of Mono Basin); eventually covering 300 square miles (780 km2) and reaching a maximum thickness of 600 feet (180 m).[5] Later volcanism in the area occurred 3.8 million to 250,000 years ago.[6] This activity was northwest of Mono Basin and included the formation of Aurora Crater, Beauty Peak, Cedar Hill (later an island in the highest stands of Mono Lake), and Mount Hicks.

Mono Lake is believed to have formed at least 760,000 years ago, dating back to the Long Valley eruption. Sediments located below the ash layer hint that Mono Lake could be a remnant of a larger and older lake that once covered a large part of Nevada and Utah, which would put it among the oldest lakes in North America. At its height during the most recent ice age, the lake would have been about 900 feet (270 m) deep.[7] Prominent old shore lines, called strandlines by geologists, can be seen west of the Lake.[8]

Currently, Mono Lake is in a geologically active area at the north end of the Mono–Inyo Craters volcanic chain and is close to Long Valley Caldera. Volcanic activity continues in the Mono Lake vicinity: the most recent eruption occurred 350 years ago, resulting in the formation of Paoha Island. Panum Crater (on the south shore of the lake) is an excellent example of a combined rhyolite dome and cinder cone.

8. Little Manitou Lake (18%)

little manitou lake

Little Manitou Lake is a small saltwater lake about 100 kilometres south-east of Saskatoon, Canada. The lake was formed by receding glaciers during the most recent ice age. It is fed by underground springs, and has a mineral content high in sodium, magnesium and potassium salts due to it being a terminal lake. The salt content of the water (180 g/L)[3] gives it a density about half of that of the Dead Sea (300-400 ppt), allowing bathers to float easily.

7. Great Salt Lake (5 – 27%)

great salt lake

The Great Salt Lake, located in the northern part of the U.S. state of Utah, is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere,[1] and the eighth-largest terminal lake in the world.[2] In an average year the lake covers an area of around 1,700 square miles (4,400 km2),[2] but the lake’s size fluctuates substantially due to its shallowness. For instance, in 1963 it reached its lowest recorded level at 950 square miles (2,460 km²), but in 1988 the surface area was at the historic high of 3,300 square miles (8,500 km2).[2] In terms of surface area, it is the largest lake in the United States that is not part of the Great Lakes region.

The lake is the largest remnant of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric pluvial lake that once covered much of western Utah. The three major tributaries to the lake, the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers together deposit around 1.1 million tons of minerals in the lake each year.[1] As it is endorheic (has no outlet besides evaporation), it has very high salinity, far saltier than seawater, which makes swimming similar to floating, and its mineral content is steadily increasing. Its shallow, warm waters cause frequent, sometimes heavy lake-effect snows from late fall through spring.

6. Lake Urmia (8.5 – 28%)

lake urmia

Lake Urmia (Persian: دریاچه ارومیه‎‎, Daryāche-ye Orūmiye; Azerbaijani: اورمیا ﮔﺆﻟﻮ, Urmiya gölü) is an endorheic salt lake in Iranian Azerbaijan, Iran and near Iran’s border with Turkey.[3][4] The lake is between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan in Iran, and west of the southern portion of the Caspian Sea. At its full size, it was the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth-largest saltwater lake on Earth with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 mi) length, 55 km (34 mi) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.[5] The lake has shrunk to 10% of its former size due to damming of the rivers that flow into it and pumping of groundwater from the area.[6]

Lake Urmia, along with its once approximately 102 islands, are protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment.

5. Dead Sea (33.7%)

dead sea

The Dead Sea (Hebrew: יָם הַמֶּלַח, Yam ha-Melah, “Sea of Salt”, also Hebrew: יָם הַמָּוֶת, Yam ha-Mavet, “The Sea of Death”, and Arabic: البحر الميت‎‎ About this sound Al-Bahr al-Mayyit ),[4] also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lakebordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. Its surface and shores are 429 metres (1,407 ft) below sea level,[3][5] Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 304 m (997 ft) deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With 34.2% salinity (in 2011), it is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean, and one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water.[6] This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 50 kilometres (31 mi) long and 15 kilometres (9 mi) wide at its widest point.[1] It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River.

The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. In the Bible, it is a place of refuge for King David. It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers. People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.

The Dead Sea water has a density of 1.24 kg/litre, which makes swimming similar to floating.[7][8]

The Dead Sea is an endorheic lake located in the Jordan Rift Valley, a geographic feature formed by the Dead Sea Transform (DST). This left lateral-moving transform fault lies along the tectonic plate boundary between theAfrican Plate and the Arabian Plate. It runs between the East Anatolian Fault zone in Turkey and the northern end of the Red Sea Rift offshore of the southern tip of Sinai. It is here that the Upper Jordan River/Sea of Galilee/Lower Jordan River water system comes to an end.

The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea, although there are small perennial springs under and around the Dead Sea, forming pools and quicksand pits along the edges.[11] There are no outlet streams.

The Wadi Mujib valley, 420 m below the sea level in the southern of Jordan valley, is a biosphere reserve, with an area of 212 km2 (82 sq mi).[12]

Rainfall is scarcely 100 mm (4 in) per year in the northern part of the Dead Sea and barely 50 mm (2 in) in the southern part.[13] The Dead Sea zone’s aridity is due to the rainshadow effect of the Judaean Mountains. The highlands east of the Dead Sea receive more rainfall than the Dead Sea itself.

To the west of the Dead Sea, the Judaean mountains rise less steeply and are much lower than the mountains to the east. Along the southwestern side of the lake is a 210 m (700 ft) tall halite formation called “Mount Sodom“.

4. Lake Assal (34.8%)


Lake Assal (Arabic: بحيرة عسل‎‎ Buḥayrah ʿAsal, literally ‘honey lake’) is a crater lake in central-western Djibouti. It is located at the western end of Gulf of Tadjoura in the Tadjoura Region, touching Dikhil Region, at the top of the Great Rift Valley, some 120 km (75 mi) west of Djibouti city. Lake Assal is a saline lake which lies 155 m (509 ft) below sea level in the Afar Triangle, making it the lowest point on land in Africa and the second-lowest land depression on Earth after the Dead Sea. No outflow occurs from the lake, and due to high evaporation, the salinity level of its waters is 10 times that of the sea, making it the most saline in the world after Don Juan Pond.[1][2][3][4][5] Lake Assal is the world’s largest salt reserve, which is exploited under four concessions awarded in 2002 at the southeast end of the lake; the major share of production (nearly 80%) is held by Société d’Exploitation du Lac and Société d’Exploitation du Salt Investment S.A de Djibouti.[5]

The lake, considered a “national treasure”, is a protected zone under the law No. 45/AN/04/5L of the National Environmental Action Plan, 2000. However, the law does not define the boundary limits of the lake. Since the exploitation of the salt from the lake was uncontrolled, the Plan has emphasized the need for managing the exploitation to avoid negative impact on the lake environment. The Government of Djibouti has initiated a proposal with UNESCO to declare the Lake Assal zone and the Ardoukoba volcano as a World Heritage Site.[5][6]

Lake Assal, in an oval shape (length 19 km (12 mi) and width 6.5 km (4.0 mi)),[7] consists of two distinct parts; one is “crystallised salt surface” zone of 68 km2 (26 sq mi) and the other is the high saline brine area of 54 km2 (21 sq mi). The crystallised salt zone extends to a depth of more than 60 m (200 ft) whose estimated resource is about 300 million tonnes.[5] The lake measures 10 by 7 km (6.2 by 4.3 mi) and has an area of liquid brine 54 km2 (21 sq mi). The maximum depth is 40 m (130 ft), whereas the mean depth is 7.4 m (24 ft), which makes for a water volume of 400 million cubic metres (320,000 acre·ft)

3. Garabogazköl (35%)


The Garabogazköl Aylagy, alternatively the Kara-Bogaz-Gol (Turkmen: black (or mighty) strait lake) is a shallow inundated depression in the northwestern corner of Turkmenistan.[1] It forms a lagoon of the Caspian Sea with a surface area of about 18,000 km2 (6,900 sq mi).[2] It is separated from the Caspian Sea proper, which lies immediately to the west, by a narrow, rocky ridge having a very narrow opening in the rock through which the Caspian waters flow, cascading down into Garabogazköl (whence the name of the bay – “Mighty Strait Lake” in the Turkmen language – comes). The water volume of the bay fluctuates seasonally with the Caspian Sea; at times it becomes a large bay of the Caspian Sea, while at other times its water level drops drastically.

The city of Garabogaz (formerly Bekdaş) lies on the ridge, about 50 km (31 mi) north of the channel between the main Caspian basin and the Garabogazköl lagoon. The town has a population of about 10,000.

The salinity of the bay is about 35%, compared to the Caspian Sea’s 1.2%,[3] and other of the world’s oceans. Because of the exceptionally high salinity it has practically no marine vegetation. Large evaporite, mostly salt deposits accumulated at the south shore were harvested by the local population since the 1920s, but in the 1930s manual collection stopped and the industry shifted northwest to its present center near Garabogaz. From the 1950s on, ground water was pumped from levels lower than the bay itself, yielding more valuable types of salts. In 1963 construction began at Garabogaz on a modern plant for increased production of salines, all the year round and independently of natural evaporation. This plant was completed in 1973.

In March 1980, the barrier to the Caspian was blocked, due to concerns evaporation was accelerating a fall in Caspian Sea level, reducing water levels.[2] The resulting “salt bowl” caused widespread problems of blowing salt,[4] reportedly poisoning the soil and causing health problems for hundreds of kilometers downwind to the east. In 1984 the lake was completely dry. In June 1992, when Caspian Sea levels were rising again, the barrier was breached, allowing Caspian water to again refill Garabogazköl. The remnants of the breached dam can be seen in the satellite photo to the right near the Caspian Sea entrance.

2. Lake Vanda (35%)


Lake Vanda is a lake in Wright Valley, Victoria Land, Ross Dependency, Antarctica. The lake is 5 km long and has a maximum depth of 69 m.[2] On its shore, New Zealand maintained Vanda Station from 1968 to 1995. Lake Vanda is a hypersaline lake with a salinity more than ten times that of seawater,[3] more than the salinity of the Dead Sea, and perhaps even more than of Lake Assal (Djibouti), which is the world’s most saline lake outside of Antarctica. Lake Vanda is also meromictic, which means that the deeper waters of the lake don’t mix with the shallower waters.[4] There are three distinct layers of water ranging in temperature from 23 °C (73 °F) on the bottom to the middle layer of 7 °C (45 °F) and the upper layer ranges from 4–6 °C (39–43 °F).[5] It is only one of the many saline lakes in the ice-free valleys of the Transantarctic Mountains. The longestriver of Antarctica, Onyx River, flows West, inland, into Lake Vanda. There is a meteorological station at the mouth of the river.

The lake is covered by a transparent ice sheet 3.5–4 metres (11–13 ft) year-round, though melting in late December forms a moat out to approximately 50 metres (160 ft) from the shore. The surface of the ice is not covered with snow and is “deeply rutted with cracks and melt lines”.[5] During the colder months the moat refreezes.

While no species of fish live in Lake Vanda or the Onyx River, microscopic life such as cyanobacteria algal blooms have been recorded. Due to the concerns over impact to the natural environment that may occur during research, scientific diving operations are limited to work in the upper layer (above 30 metres (98 ft)) and remotely operated underwater vehicle use is not allowed.[5]

1. Don Juan Pond (44%)


Don Juan Pond, also called Don Juan, is a small and very shallow hypersaline lake in the west end of Wright Valley (South Fork), Victoria Land, Antarctica, 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) west from Lake Vanda. It is wedged between the Asgard Range to the south and the Dais Range to the north. On the west end is a small tributary and a rock glacier. With a salinity level of over 40%, Don Juan Pond is the saltiest known body of water on Earth.[1][2]

Don Juan Pond was discovered in 1961. It was named for two helicopter pilots, Lt. Don Roe and Lt. John Hickey, who piloted the helicopter involved with the first field party investigating the pond. On that initial investigation, the temperature was −30 °C (−22 °F) and the water remained in a liquid state.

Don Juan Pond is a shallow, flat-bottom, hyper-saline pond. It has greater salinity than the Dead Sea or even Lake Assal (Djibouti) (the same is true for Lake Vanda and perhaps other lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys). It is claimed that Don Juan Pond is over 18 times the ocean’s salinity and 1.3 times that of the Dead Sea. The fact that it is the only one of the Antarctic hypersaline lakes that almost never freezes is an indication of its top rank in salinity among the world’s lakes. It has been described as a groundwater discharge zone. The dominant ions in solution are calcium and chloride. The area around Don Juan Pond is covered with sodium chloride and calcium chloride salts that have been precipitated as the water evaporated. Area and volume of Don Juan Pond vary over time. According to the USGS topographical map published in 1977, the area was approximately 0.25 km2 (62 acres). However, in recent years the pond has shrunk considerably. The maximum depth in 1993–1994 was described as “a foot deep” (30 cm). In January 1997, it was approximately 10 centimetres (3.9 in) deep; in December 1998 the pond was almost dry everywhere except for an area of a few tens of square meters. Most of the remaining water was in depressions around large boulders in the pond.[3]

The calculated composition for its water is CaCl2 3.72 mol/kg and NaCl 0.50 mol/kg, at the temperature of -51.8 °C.[1] That would be equivalent to 413 g of CaCl2 and 29 g of NaCl per kg of water (i.e. 44.2 percent salinity by weight).


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