The Science of Salt

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs walked the Earth and the Salton Trough was at the bottom of the ocean. The Salton Trough was part of the Gulf of California until four million years ago when sediment from the Colorado River built up and closed the gap.1 Today, there are 150 miles between the Salton Sea and the Gulf of California, but evidence of their former connection can be found in the soil.

The land around the Salton Sea is composed of minerals of marine origin; many of these minerals are salts. A salt is a compound made up of positively (cation) and negatively (anion) charged ions. Sodium chloride, known as table salt, is the primary salt in the ocean and it dissolves readily in water to form a sodium cation and a chlorine anion. Other chemical components of seawater include magnesium, calcium, and potassium cations and sulfate anions. The Salton Sea has many of the ions of seawater in addition to phosphate and nitrate nutrients from fertilizers that are flushed into the Sea.2 Together, the total dissolved salt content of a body of water is called salinity. Continue reading “The Science of Salt”

The Bird is the Word, Part 2

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The first post on this topic established that the Salton Sea is an ecological oasis and one of the last existing stops in southern California for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. However, it was mentioned previously that there are many factors which are threatening this avian Eden. Each of these threats will be addressed in more detail individually, with the first being avian botulism toxin.

Avian botulism toxin is produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. While the bacteria is commonly found in soils and wetlands, it will not produce the botulism toxin unless certain environmental conditions are met. In order for the bacteria to produce the toxin, it needs an anaerobic environment, warm temperatures, and a protein source.[1] Do these conditions sound familiar? In the summer, low dissolved oxygen levels, high temperatures, and the presence of dead algae (protein source) in the Salton Sea provide an ideal environment for the growth of C. botulinum and the subsequent production of avian botulism toxin. Continue reading “The Bird is the Word, Part 2”

Bird is the Word

Over 400 different species of birds rely on the Salton Sea

Yuma Ridgway’s Rail. Aaron Maizlish, Ridgway’s Rail. 2014, click for link.

The Salton Sea is often construed by the news, documentaries, and other blogs as a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is devoid of life. However, this is an incorrect portrayal that has taken hold, most likely for its dramatic effect. In reality, the Salton Sea and its surrounding area is an oasis of biodiversity in the Sonoran Desert. Over 400 different species of birds utilize the sea for some portion of the year [1]. This makes the Salton Sea rank 2nd in avian diversity in the United States [2]. In addition to the sheer number of birds that rely on the Sea, it is important to consider which species of birds are there. Continue reading “Bird is the Word”