Great Salt Lake
Credit: Public domain.

The Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA comes in 5th place in saltiest lakes on Earth at times when water levels are low and salt concentrations are high.[1]

Lakes saltier than the ocean

The world’s oceans have about 3.5% salt content on average, although by definition water becomes saltwater with just 1/100th this amount, or 0.035%.[3]

The salt is nearly entirely sodium chloride, which is what everyone knows as table salt.  In chemistry there are lots of different salts. A salt is the product of a chemical reaction between an acid and a base, to create an electrically neutral molecule. A rock of sodium chloride in nature is called halite.[2]

Some notable saline lakes are less salty than the oceans, such as the massive Caspian Sea in Eurasia, which is by far the largest lake in the world. And worldwide, there are at least ten lakes known to be saltier than the oceans.[4] Below are the top five saltiest.

Below I give geographical coordinates for each lake, should you want to locate them on Google Maps or Google Earth. 

#1 - Don Juan Pond in Antarctica

Don Juan Pond, Antarctica
Credit: Public domain.

The champion saltiest lake on Earth is located in Antarctica, and thus not very accessible for most people.  Discovered in 1961, the lake is approximately 1,100 ft (330 meters) by 330 feet (100 meters) in size, so not quite as small as what you might think from the word “pond”; and it is very shallow.[5]

The location is 83 miles (136 km) west of the United States-operated McMurdo Station, within Victoria Land, and only a few miles from the Ross Ice Shelf.[5]

Antarctica is divided into Western and Eastern Antarctica, depending upon the hemisphere, and Don Juan Pond is located in Eastern Antarctica.  It is more than 800 miles (1,300 km) from the South Pole.[6]

The lake has been measured as having 44% salt content.  When it was measured, the water temperature was minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 Celsius), and due to the saltiness, it remained in a liquid state.[5]

Geographical coordinates for Don Juan Pond: 770 33’ 45” South, 1610 12’ East

#2 - Lake Vanda in Antarctica

Lake Vanda, Antarctica
Credit: Public domain.

The second-saltiest lake on Earth is located just 3.3 miles (5.3 km) from the first-saltiest.  Lake Vanda sits in the same valley as Don Juan Pond, called Wright Valley.[7]

This lake is considerably larger than the other, at 4.6 miles (7.4 km) in length, and about 0.9 miles (1.4 km) in width.  It gets up to 246 feet (75 meters) deep, and has three distinct layers of water that do not mix with one another.[7]

The lake’s salinity has been confirmed as between 35% and 40%.  Antarctica’s largest river, the Onyx River, flows from the northeast into Lake Vanda, originating with some glaciers.[7]

It should be noted that there are many saline lakes in Antarctica, and only a small number have really been explored, studied, or measured for salinity.

Geographical coordinates for Lake Vanda: 770 32’ South, 1610 33’ East

#3 - Lake Assal in Djibouti

Lake Assal, Djibouti, Africa
Credit: Public domain.

Africa’s Lake Assal, located in the country of Djibouti (“Ji – BOO – tee”), is the third-saltiest lake on Earth, with a measured salinity of 34.8%, and the saltiest of any not located in Antarctica.[8]

Djibouti is a small country in Eastern Africa that sits right next to Bab-el-Mandeb, which is the strait connecting the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea.  Only two countries on the mainland of Africa are smaller (Gambia and Swaziland).[9]

The lake is about four miles (7 km) across and twelve miles (19 km) long, and located just a bit further than that from the Gulf of Tadjora, which connects to the much larger Gulf of Aden.  Its surface is 509 ft (155 meters) below sea level, at the lowest point on the continent of Africa.[8]

Geologically, the lake is part of a system of fissures in the Earth, from which lava has erupted.  The most recent occurrence was in 1978, from Ardoukoba Volcano, just two miles (3 km) from the lake.[8]

Geographical coordinates for Lake Assal: 110 40’ North, 420 25’ East

#4 - The Dead Sea in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel

Dead Sea, Middle East
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Wilson44691, CC BY-SA 3.0.

So-named because the saltiness prevents anything from being able to live in it, the Dead Sea is the lowest point below sea level, on land, of anywhere on the Earth’s surface.  The water level has continued to drop over the past several decades, and as of late 2013 the surface is 1,401 feet (427 meters) below sea level.[10]

The lake is also the deepest saline lake in the world, at currently 1,004 feet (306 meters) depth.  It is 31 miles (50 km) in length, and 9 miles (14 km) in width.[10]

The Dead Sea occupies a rift along a transform fault, which runs from the northern end of the Red Sea, northward into Turkey.  The only major water source that flows into the Dead Sea is the Jordan River.[10]

Although water levels have fluctuated dramatically over the past few thousand years, the reason for the current drop is ongoing diversion of water from the Jordan River for irrigation purposes.[10]

The Dead Sea is mentioned many times in the Bible, by names that include the Salt Sea, the Sea of Arabah, and the Eastern Sea.  The name “Dead Sea” is not found in the Bible, and is a modern name for this ancient body of water.[10]

Geographical coordinates for the Dead Sea: 310 33’ North, 350 29’ East

#5 - Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA

Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA in winter
Credit: Wikipedia photo by DR04, CC BY 3.0.

The sixth-largest saline lake in the world (after the Caspian Sea, Lake Balkhash, Issyk-Kul, and Lake Urmia in Eurasia, and Lake Turkana in Africa), is the largest in the Americas.  It is also the largest lake completely within a US state.[11]

The lake is very shallow, averaging about 16 feet.  Also, the quantity of water fluctuates widely, which also affects the area the lake covers, and also the salinity.[11]

The largest it has gotten is 3,300 square miles (8,550 square km), in 1988.  In 1963, the record low was recorded of just 950 square miles (2,460 square km).  More typically it is in between, around 1,700 to 1,800 square miles (4,400 to 4,660 square km) in size.[11]

Overall, the salinity can range from around 5% (when at the record high water volume), to around 27% (when at the record low water volume), with the average being near 15%.[11]

During the Pleistocene Epoch, the lake was more than ten times larger than the present average size, and the Great Salt Lake is the last remnant of this ancient lake, called LakeBonneville.[11]

Unlike the Dead Sea and others listed above, there is some life in the lake.  The Great Salt Lake has a population of native brine shrimp, which are harvested and comprise 40% of the worldwide supply.[11]

Geographical coordinates for the Great Salt Lake: 410 9’ North, 1120 33’ West