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Why should we study salt lakes?

Though the physico-chemical properties and species composition of salt lakes are similar to those of marine ecosystems, the attention of scientists has been focused mostly on fresh water habitats. Sea and ocean explorers consider salt lakes among inland water bodies, neither do fresh water researchers, due to the specific character of salt lakes, include them into their study area. Nowadays this approach is starting to change, as new possibilities of getting knowledge at these natural objects have arisen. Researchers of marine ecosystems believe salt lakes to be more easily controlled and less complicated representatives of large marine objects, while explorers of inland waters use lakes with different salinity as natural ecological and evolutional laboratories. It should be noted that the level of scientific investigations at natural sites depends upon the infrastructure and proximity of large research centers. The majority of salt lakes can be found in arid and semiarid zones (steppes, semi-deserts, highlands etc.) which are usually situated far from research and development centers. However, even this obstacle is not so important if we consider general and, particularly, scientific globalization (development of scientific infrastructure, increasing mobility of scientists, availability of information and advanced technologies through the Internet etc.) Thus, salt lakes as salt water bodies can be the object of interest both for researchers of seas and oceans and for inland water researchers, which can become a solid basis for the synthesis of new knowledge.

Here are several reasons for studying salt lakes:

 Development and creation of universal mathematical models applicable to different lake ecosystems is an important task for salt lake researchers, as well as for limnology as a whole. Such models should be built on the basis of a unified methodology including hydrodynamic and hydro physical model, biological interaction model and the model of bottom processes formation. In such case the model will be almost complete with regard to the components. The above mentioned scheme should be worked out in the process of discussion of experts. Adaptation of such models will be possible if explicit data is available for different lakes. It should be mentioned that model adaptation is a labor-consuming and substantive process. In such model even the description of hydrophysical processes should be made specifically for each lake. On the other hand, the unified scheme will mean a greater directivity in data compilation for different lakes.

 Investigations of salt lakes are often based on the statement that they are the real small models of marine ecosystems and of ancient water ecosystems. Scientists are faced with the task of proving this statement. If this is the case, lakes as more dynamic water bodies in comparison with marine ecosystems can serve as a model that will test the efficiency of ecosystem state control. Developing the theory of similarity of water ecosystems, like in aero- and hydrodynamics, can be of great importance to the scientifically grounded method of the transfer of ecosystem dynamics observation results from one salt lake to another one or to a marine ecosystem.

 Many salt lakes have rather poor functional structure. For example, the structure of hypersalt lakes (with salinity < 100 g/l) is almost minimal, consisting only of a unit of producers and - usually a homotypical (Artemia salina) - unit of consumers. From this point of view, salt lakes can be investigated as a possible model of ecosystem functioning in case of structural biodiversity reduction, caused by human intervention into nature.

 Extreme conditions of salt lakes lead to discoveries of unique organisms. In this connection, investigations of such aspects as biodiversity of salt lakes, mechanisms of organisms adaptation to extreme environmental conditions and energoplastic exchange of these organisms are of current interest to the scientists. Such investigations are also promising from the point of view of astrobiology: salt lakes as extreme living conditions available on the Earth or as the living conditions model of ancient ecosystems.

Andrey Degermendzhy
Director, Institute of Biophysics SB RAS
Member at large, International Society for Salt Lake Research

Egor Zadereev
Research scientist, The head of the field station at Shira lake

I study salt lakes because I am interested in invertebrate biodiversity and survival in harsh environments. Perhaps surprisingly when compared to freshwater lakes, salt lakes are incredibly diverse internationally and even locally. So there is multilevel diversity which makes for fascinating science and a search for explanations.  What more could a scientist want? I also like adventure and most salt lakes lie in remote, inhospitable places, so doing field work is a challenge. I have come to admire and enjoy the environs of salt lakes, which gives a spiritual dimension to my science. In addition there is an overwhelming environmental dimension, in the realization that by man's activities, salt lakes are becoming more common and also more degraded, so we need to understand their ecology as a matter of urgency.

Brian Timms
President, International Society for Salt Lake Research
Professor of Environmental Science, University of Newcastle , Australia

Salt lakes are valuable, comprehensive natural resources, in which there occur diverse and abundant mineral resources and large quantities of halobionts of great economic value and scientific significance. Salt lakes are also an important landscape tourism resource, a medical mud resource and a salt gradient solar-pond energy accumulation resource. Modern salt lakes as a natural sedimentological laboratory are not only sensitive records of all paleoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic changes but also a natural laboratory for the study of salt-forming processes and environmental changes. Inexhaustible secrets are hidden in salt lakes, which remain to be found by geoscientists, biologists, physicists, chemists and engineers so as to bring benefit to mankind.

Mian-ping Zheng
Director, R & D Center of Saline Lake and Epithermal Deposit, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences


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and special program of the Presidium of Siberian Branch of Russia an Academy of Sciences.

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