Sunday, November 6, 2016

Research and Racing On The Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats are one of Utah’s most iconic landscapes, covering more than 30,000 acres of BLM-managed land in the Salt Lake Field Office. Since 1914, this majestic landscape has served as the racing grounds for generations of land speed racers from around the world. For decades, these passionate racers have tested themselves, each other, and their vehicles in an ever-escalating contest to go faster than ever before.

The area gets its name from the prehistoric Lake Bonneville that extended over 19,000 square miles and reached depths of over 1,000 feet. The salt flats are a remnant of this ancient lake – where evaporation left large concentrations of dissolved minerals in the surrounding soils. In the winter, groundwater and regional storms flood the Salt Flats – creating a salty, shallow lake. When temperatures rise in the summer months, the water evaporates, leaving behind the iconic white salt crust – sought after by landspeed racers for the hard and flat surface it forms. The salt is also influenced by changes in weather patterns. For example, mid-summer rains in 2014 and 2015 flooded the salt and forced cancellations of the late-summer land speed racing events.

Beyond these seasonal changes, there are additional and complex dynamics that drive this geological system, of which we have only scratched the surface on scientific understanding. Adding to the challenge is the complexity raised by a changing climate in the Great Basin. To help unravel the system, the BLM has partnered with Dr. Brenda Bowen at the University of Utah on a long-term scientific study.

BLMers, scientists, and landspeed racers are all “gunning” to preserve the Bonneville Salt Flats. These scientific studies will help the BLM in making challenging management decisions and will undoubtedly uncover further questions regarding the dynamics of this unusual geologic system.