A New Mexico State University-sponsored speaker series will explore how climate change and other factors have pushed Utah’s Great Salt Lake to the brink of ecosystem collapse – a crisis that would endanger Utah residents, a variety of non-human species and the region’s economy.
The free Nov. 30 lecture will feature Bonnie Baxter, professor of biology at Westminster College and founder of the school’s Great Salt Lake Institute, which engages the public through research and education. Baxter’s talk – “Climate Change and the Great Salt Lake: Lessons for the West” – will start at 7 p.m. at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum auditorium.
The Great Salt Lake’s shorelines have shrunk by two-fifths in recent years, and in June, the water body hit a record-breaking low for the second consecutive year. As the lake shrinks, salinity increases, threatening the microbial life that sustains brine shrimp and migratory birds. An exposed shoreline could yield blowing dust containing toxins like arsenic and mercury that could further threaten public health.
The dire trend prompted Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to gain passage of the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act, which secured $10 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to monitor conditions and explore ways to direct additional water to the lake.
Recently, Baxter called attention to the plight of the Great Salt Lake in a published semi-satirical obituary for the lake in Catalyst magazine, subtitled “Even lakes are not immortal.”
Baxter received a Bachelor of Science from Elon University in North Carolina and completed her Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She studies the photobiology of halophiles – or salt-tolerant bacteria – and the microbial diversity of the Great Salt Lake.
Baxter’s talk will be the last in the fall line-up in NMSU’s Climate Change Education Seminar Series. NMSUCCESS is an interdisciplinary series that brings a range of experts and thought leaders to NMSU and other venues in Las Cruces to discuss climate change’s causes, consequences and possible responses.