TOOELE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Racing is back on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s the first time in three years that Speed Week and World of Speed haven’t been canceled due to the condition of the track. But just because racing is back, doesn’t mean the research into the health of the salt flats has stalled out.
A team of researchers from the University of Utah are mid-way through their 3 year study of the salt flats. The team was hired by Intrepid Potash. The BLM requires the mining company to commission a study of the salt flats every 15 years
Brenda Bowen, Professor of Geology and Geophysics is heading the study. Bowen said, “We’re trying to understand how much salt is out here across the salt flats, how it’s changing through time and the different processes and factors that are driving some of those changes.”
The last study was done in 2003, and that study showed the salt flats were fine. “The last two studies, so the late 80s and early 2000s, did not show a change in the salt crust volume,” said Bowen.
But Bowen says if you look at satellite images taken over the last 30 years you can see there’s been a decrease in the overall area, “Now what that means about the volume and the thickness we don’t know.”
The university researchers are drilling near the same 70 spots where the study was conducted in 2003 to give an apples to apples comparison of the condition of the salt.
Those who have raced at the Bonneville Salt Flats for decades say they’ve certainly seen a change. In 2015 Mike Nish of Nish Motersports told Good4Utah, “It’s my feeling if there was more salt out there and it hadn’t been all mined and taken off maybe the conditions would be what they are.”
While the results aren’t yet in, Bowen believes the salt flats are impacted from a variety of factors from the potash mining, to the racing and of course the rain. “The simple observation that rain dissolves salt helps us understand that we are dissolving some of it from the top that way, but we also have been using, impacting and extracting from the system for 100 years and of course that’s going to have an impact.”
The study is expected to be completed in 2018.