Salton Sea Scents: What’s that smell?

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Algae overtaking the Salton Sea due to high nutrient load(eutrophic conditions). Source:

In the past few months the Salton Sea has been putting off a worrisome odor with increasing frequency. The smell has been strong enough that the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)[1] has issued odor warnings to people living in the immediate area. For residents of the Coachella Valley, the key questions here are, “What makes the Salton Sea stink?” and “Is that smell dangerous?”

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Sink or Swim (or Float): Water Quality and Salinity

Can you swim in the Salton Sea?

You are going to the Salton Sea this weekend. It’s the desert; it’s going to be really hot, so you want to know if you will be able to cool off in the water. Considering the massive fish die-offs and the occasional nasty odor for which the Salton Sea is notorious, you might be concerned about the safety of swimming in the water. You probably want to know the answer to two questions:

First question: Can you swim in the Salton Sea?

Answer: Of course you can! It’s full of water, it reaches a depth of 50 ft., and there are plenty of crowd-free beaches. Not only can you swim in the sea, but you can also float really well. There are approximately 55 grams of salt per liter of water (g L-1). This salinity is higher than the ocean, which has ~33 g L-1; thus the water is more dense and, with no waves, the relaxation potential is greater [1].

Second question: Should you swim in the Salton Sea?

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