Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Here on Gunnison Island!"

The University of Utah maintains about ten different weather stations in northern Utah. I had the opportunity to visit the most remote stations: Gunnison Island. Gunnison Island is located in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake. That lake has to be the most unique lake in the world. The north side is at least ten times saltier than the ocean. It is salt saturated, meaning you can't dissolve any more salt in the water. Even more interesting is that the north side of the lake is red. When the boat rudders are on, it looks like it is stirring a big batch of pink lemonade. It looked like a sweet summer drink.

About once a year meteorologist go to the island to change the battery and check the instruments to make sure everything is working properly. We have had trouble with getting consistent weather data from this station for a while. To get to Gunnision Island we hitched a ride from Utah's Department of Natural Resources. They were taking water samples at different places in the lake and they were kind enough to maroon me and another from the University on the small island. The boat is made of aluminum. Salt would corrode any other material. It doesn't show up as well in the picture, but the north side of the Great Salt Lake is very red. It looked like we were boating in a giant lake of pink lemonade.
The railroad divides the north and south side of the lake. Someone was ambitious enough to move the dirt for it. Because of the divide, the north and south arms are very different. The north side is about 10 times saltier than the ocean. It is salt saturated, meaning you can't dissolve any more salt into it. There is a lot of salt extraction that they use for roads in the winter, table salt, and minerals for fertilizers. The south side of the lake is less salty (about 6 times saltier than the ocean) because there are several fresh water rivers that flow into it. There is a lot of brine shrimp that can survive in it. Unlike the north side, the water in the south side isn't red and the shrimp can't survive.
And we were marooned on the island. Our only supplies were a water bottle, a sandwich, sunscreen, and weather instruments.
Instead of carrying all the tools to the top, we only took what we thought we needed. I ended up walking back down and up to the top three times during the trip.
A view from the top of Gunnison Island. You can see the boat trail in the water. I have a lot of bragging rights right now: I'm one of only a few people to even step foot on this island.
The weather station has had troubles sending weather data to the school, but we couldn't find any immediate problem with any of the instruments. We did change the battery and cleaned the equipment.
While people in Salt Lake were experiencing the 100 degree temperatures, we enjoyed 84 degrees. It was still hot and there wasn't any shade on the island.
Here is a link to weather data from this station:

Instead of a sandy beach, this is a salty beach. All the rocks and dead birds have a thick deposit of salt.

Usual brine shrimp don't live in the north side of the lake. It is too salty. There must have been a big breach from the north side because there was a lot of these little animals. Most of them were dead.

The water was very calm on the way back. It would have been perfect for water skiing, but I wouldn't want to do that here. The salt water is super dense, so crashing on the water would feel like falling on cement! 

On the way home we saw a lot of smoke from the Patch Springs fire. Above the smoke you can see the large pyrocumulus cloud. These only form above wildfires. In order to make a cloud you need two things: water vapor and rising air. Wild fires provide both of these. The hot flames heat the air, and we all know that hot air rises. And water vapor is a product of combustion and also evaporates out of the plants being burned. These clouds are often super white. This is because they are more reflective than typical clouds. Smoke is made up of a lot of tiny particles that water vapor will condense on to form cloud droplets. Since there are so many cloud droplets compared to a typical cloud they reflect more sunlight, thus appearing more white.

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