Water Resources Research

On the interaction between bathymetry and climate in the system dynamics and preferred levels of the Great Salt Lake

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Abstract

[1] The Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake whose level is determined by the balance between inflows and outflows. We examine the causes for multimodality in the distributions of lake level and hence volume and area that have previously been examined from a system dynamics perspective. We focus on the role of bathymetry in the dynamics of this system and show that some of the modes that are observed and that represent preferred system states are attributable to features of the bathymetry described using the topographic area-volume relationship. Being a terminal lake, the only “outflow” is evaporation, which depends directly on lake area, which adjusts (with stochastic fluctuations) to balance inflows. Where the topographic side slopes are relatively flat and the lake goes through a large change in area for a given increase in level, the outflux evaporation will go through a corresponding large change, tending to stabilize the lake at that point. Conversely, where topographic side slopes are relatively steep, the stabilizing effect is diminished. This effect was quantified using the derivative of the lake area–lake volume function determined from U.S. Geological Survey topographic and bathymetric surveys. We show how some of the observed modes that represent preferred lake volume states are attributable to peaks in this area-volume derivative, while a complete description of the observed distribution of lake volume requires combining the bathymetry represented by the area-volume derivative with a multimodal lake area distribution that may be connected to multimodality in the aggregate hydrological forcing.

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