The Great Salt Lake and other large extinct inland seas in the desert remain a challenge to explain by conventional geology.

A press release from Stanford University suggests that “Tropical rain may have formed Utah’s Great Salt Lake, says Stanford Researcher,” but problems appear further down.  First, we learn that this is an old problem:

Between 20,000 and 14,000 years ago, the deserts in the American Southwest were covered with enormous lakes. How all that water got there has long puzzled Earth scientists, but new work by a group of scientists that includes a Stanford climate researcher could provide an answer.

These lakes “covered about a quarter of both Nevada and Utah.”  Till recently, the leading explanation called for a shift in the jet stream that dumped more precipitation in the southwest in the past.  Problem: that theory should show increased wetness from the coast inland that is not found.  That explanation has been “ruled out,” the press release indicated.

The researcher to the rescue is appropriately named: he is Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences.  His theory calls for tropical rains from storms coming inland from the Pacific and Gulf.  These storms conspired to dump vast quantities of water in Utah and Nevada that formed giant lakes that dried up after the stormy period. Noah and colleagues published their idea in Science (Lyle et al., “Out of the Tropics: The Pacific, Great Basin Lakes, and Late Pleistocene Water Cycle in the Western United States,” Science 28 September 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6102 pp. 1629–1633, DOI: 10.1126/science.1218390).

“We think that the extra precipitation may have come in the summer, enhancing the now weak summer monsoon in the desert southwest. But we need more information about what season the storms arrived to strengthen this speculation,” said Mitchell Lyle, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study….

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