Salinity and hydrology of closed lakes

Professional Paper 412




Lakes without outlets, called closed lakes, are exclusively features of the arid and semiarid zones where annual evaporation exceeds rainfall. The number of closed lakes increases with aridity, so there are relatively few perennial closed lakes, but "dry" lakes that rarely contain water are numerous.

Closed lakes fluctuate in level to a much greater degree than the open lakes of the humid zone, because variations in inflow can be compensated only by changes in surface area. Since the variability of inflow increases with aridity, it is possible to derive an approximate relationship for the coefficient of variation of lake area in terms of data on rates of evaporation, lake area, lake depth, and drainage area.

The salinity of closed lakes is highly variable, ranging from less than 1 percent to over 25 percent by weight of salts. Some evidence suggests that the tonnage of salts in a lake solution is substantially less than the total input of salts into the lake over the period of existence of the closed lake. This evidence suggests further that the salts in a lake solution represent a kind of long-term balance between factors of gain and loss of salts from the solution.

Possible mechanisms for the loss of salts dissolved in the lake include deposition in marginal bays, entrapment in sediments, and removal by wind. Transport of salt from the lake surface in wind spray is also a contributing, but seemingly not major, factor.

The hypothesis of a long-term balance between input to and losses from the lake solution is checked by deriving a formula for the equilibrium concentration and comparing the results with the salinity data. The results indicate that the reported salinities seemingly can be explained in terms of their geometric properties and hydrologic environment.

The time for accumulation of salts in the lake solution the ratio between mass of salts in the solution and the annual input may also be estimated from the geometric and hydrologic factors, in the absence of data on the salt content of the lake or of the inflow.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Salinity and hydrology of closed lakes
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Utah Water Science Center
iii, 20 p.