Meet the Microbialites
Great Salt Lake's Living Rocks at Risk
By J.T. Alvarez
"[EXPOSURE] MAY HAVE LASTING, UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES FOR THE MICROBIALITE POPULATION FOR YEARS TO COME, EVEN IF LAKE LEVELS RETURN TO HIGHER LEVELS IN SUBSEQUENT YEARS."
- MICHAEL VANDEN BERG, UTAH GEOLOGICAL SURVEY ENERGY & MINERALS PROGRAM MANAGER
"EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT [THE LAKE'S] BRINE SHRIMP, BUT THESE THINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT IN THE ECOLOGICAL PICTURE."
- DR. BONNIE BAXTER, GREAT SALT LAKE INSTITUTE DIRECTOR
Microbialites are a point of interest in multiple fields of study like astrobiology, paleontology, and biotechnology. Evidence of microbialite-like structures have been found in dried lake beds on Mars, offering insight on what life on other planets might look like. Their presence on Earth has been linked to nearby petroleum systems, piquing the interest of energy industries. And their unique microbial composition could further efforts at carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to improve air quality and lessen the effects of extreme weather patterns.
The living rocks of Great Salt Lake, which cover roughly 20% of its lake bed, are just one of many organisms that rely on Utah's terminal waters. Protecting them is not only the right but the responsibility of Utahns, with the future of the state's habitability depending on the lake's continued existence and robustness. As North America's only source of magnesium and providing nearly half of the world's harvest of brine shrimp used for aquaculture, Great Salt Lake contributes over $1 billion to Utah's economy per annum. Its loss could cost Utah twice that every year in jobs and commerce and rising healthcare costs due to the dry lake bed's toxic dust.
What You Can Do for the Microbialites
- Show elected officials that Utah cares about the lake! Reach out to government officials and ask them to prioritize water conservation and saving the Great Salt Lake's precious ecosystems. Use this map to identify local representatives who are accountable to you, their constituent.
- Learn more about the history of Great Salt Lake and the Indigenous tribes - like the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation - who have lived sustainably on its shores for generations.
- Follow @saveourgreatsaltlake and @utahriverscouncil on Instagram for news and updates about the lake.
- Sign Save Our Great Salt Lake's petition to legislators showing support for Great Salt Lake here.
- And support the Utah Rivers Council's mission of water conservation and responsible stewardship by donating.
All microbialite photos taken by Chandler Rosenberg.
About the AuthorJ.T. Alvarez is a writer and editor for CRUDE and its educational hub, SOUL, the School of UnLearning. Find them on Instagram or Twitter @judeanism.