Intensified Warming and Aridity Accelerate Terminal Lake Desiccation in the Great Basin of the Western United States

Dorothy K. Hall, John S. Kimball, Ron Larson, Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, Kimberly A. Casey, Glynn Hulley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Terminal lakes in the Great Basin (GB) of the western US host critical wildlife habitat and food for migrating birds and can be associated with serious human health and economic consequences when they desiccate. Water levels have declined dramatically in the last 100+ years due to diversion of inflows, drought and climate change. Satellite-derived environmental science data records (ESDRs) from the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) (snow cover, evapotranspiration (ET) and land surface temperature (LST)), enable a unique approach to evaluate the effects of aridification on terminal lakes and to study their individual vulnerabilities. Surface and air temperatures in the GB are rising dramatically, with a sharp rise in the rate of increase observed beginning around 2011, while the number of days of snow cover is declining especially in the western mountainous part of the GB as exemplified in Mono Basin, California. Rising temperatures coincide with fewer days of snow cover, a decrease of inflow to the lakes and greater evaporation of water from the lakes. MODIS ESDRs show strong and statistically significant increasing surface temperature (LST) in the GB, a reduction in the number of days of snow cover, and mixed results in ET. ET declined slightly in the more arid parts of the GB due to greater moisture restrictions to evaporation from extended drought, while ET increased in the more-vegetated, wetter, mountainous northeastern parts as temperatures have risen. Severe and costly ecological, human health and economic consequences are expected if the lakes continue to decline as predicted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2022EA002630
JournalEarth and Space Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Great Basin
  • Great Salt Lake
  • Lake Abert
  • Mono Lake
  • drought
  • evapotranspiration
  • land surface temperature
  • snow cover
  • terminal lakes


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