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Abbas, M.S.; Yang, Y.; Zhang, Q.; Guo, D.; Godoi, A.F.L.; Godoi, R.H.M.; Geng, H. Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 17 April 2024).
Abbas MS, Yang Y, Zhang Q, Guo D, Godoi AFL, Godoi RHM, et al. Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 17, 2024.
Abbas, Muhammad Subtain, Yajuan Yang, Quanxi Zhang, Donggang Guo, Ana Flavia Locateli Godoi, Ricardo Henrique Moreton Godoi, Hong Geng. "Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 17, 2024).
Abbas, M.S., Yang, Y., Zhang, Q., Guo, D., Godoi, A.F.L., Godoi, R.H.M., & Geng, H. (2024, February 27). Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects. In Encyclopedia.
Abbas, Muhammad Subtain, et al. "Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects." Encyclopedia. Web. 27 February, 2024.
Salt Lake Aerosols' Chemical Composition and Health Effects

Salt Lakes, having a salt concentration higher than that of seawater and hosting unique extremophiles, are predominantly located in drought-prone zones worldwide, accumulating diverse salts and continuously emitting salt dust or aerosols. Salt Lake aerosols are produced through various processes, including lake-water spray, evaporation-induced salt crystallization, wind-driven dust emissions, microbial activities, chemical reactions, and anthropogenic influences. The primary mechanism involves the breaking of wind-driven waves at the lake surface. As the wind blows across the water, it generates waves. When these waves reach a critical size, they break and release tiny droplets into the air, which become airborne particles and form aerosols.

Salt Lake aerosol climate change chemical composition health

1. Introduction

On Earth’s surface, two main types of saltwater exist: marine waters, constituting the vast oceans, and epicontinental (inland surface) Salt Lakes. Salt Lakes are permanent or temporary bodies of water with a salinity level exceeding 3 g L−1, disconnected from the marine environment. These lakes are found in various conditions, including extreme temperatures, and are especially common in drylands, particularly arid and semi-arid regions with low precipitation and vulnerable ecosystems [1]. The term “Salt Lake aerosols” refers to microscopic particles suspended in the air, originating from these Salt Lakes and their water bodies. These particles form through pathways like water spray [2], wind erosion [3], and anthropogenic processes [4]. Saline lakes and playas [5][6] are significant, dynamic sources of inland salt aerosol particles, often mixed with mineral dust, both externally and internally. These particles can undergo long-distance transport [7][8][9][10]; participate in atmospheric heterogeneous chemistry; and influence radiative balance [11], precipitation patterns [12], and climate systems [13], playing active roles in aerosol and cloud formations [14] due to their high hygroscopicity [15] and contributing to the formation of secondary aerosols, which degrade air quality.
Semi-arid and arid climate zones are expected to experience significantly reduced net precipitation and runoff due to global warming. Climate projections suggest an increase of 2.5 °C–3.7 °C in the average global surface temperature by the end of the twenty-first century [16]. This temperature rise, with an annual rate of 0.02 to 0.0325, could lead to a significant increase in evaporation—by about 190 mm, rising from 1300 mm in 1990–2010 to 1490 mm in 2070–2090. This increase is attributed to a temperature rise ranging from 1.7 °C to 3.2 °C [17]. Consequently, lakes and rivers in drylands will undergo changes in both water yield and water quality in response to considerable global shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns due to climate change. Such changes may profoundly affect the structure, functioning, and biodiversity of inland aquatic ecosystems. Inland Salt Lakes are particularly vulnerable, facing significant impacts. Climate change exerts profound and multifaceted effects on these lakes, altering their physical, chemical, and ecological characteristics. The ecosystems of Salt Lakes are especially susceptible to disturbances caused by climate change and global warming, further exacerbated by unsustainable human activities [18]. The impact is particularly pronounced in instances of desiccation [19][20]. Globally, the warming associated with climate change has been linked to reduced primary production, leading to diminished nutrient input into surface waters from mixing [21]. The extensive consequences of such disruptions are well-documented in cases like the Aral Sea, Lake Urmia [22], and other similar instances [23].
As global temperatures rise and weather patterns shift, Salt Lakes undergo notable changes in water levels, salinity, and overall hydrological balance. In recent decades, water bodies like Lake Eyre, Lake Mead, Lake Poopó, the Dead Sea, and the Aral Sea have experienced substantial shrinkage, primarily due to drought and human activities [24]. Additionally, the emissions and transportation of aerosols derived from Salt Lakes are significantly altered. Factors such as climate change, increased lake water temperature, and enhanced evaporation tend to amplify aerosol emissions. The drying of Salt Lakes has led to the occurrence of salt-dust storms, increased emission of aerosols, and soil degradation, all of which negatively impact human health and the environment [25][26].

2. Chemical Composition of Salt Lake Aerosols

Endorheic saline lakes are common features in arid and semi-arid regions. On the one hand, the Salt Lake spray aerosols (LSAs) are generated through the entrainment of air bubbles by breaking water waves, followed by the bursting of these bubbles at the water’s surface; on the other hand, the saline aerosols can be formed from the dry lakebed due to desiccated Salt Lakes and the saline soils near them. Lake desiccation is associated with increased water salinity, as well as the exposure of easily erodible sandy soil that is bare of vegetation, which promotes increased primary aerosol emissions. Thus, resuspension becomes the predominant mechanism to emit saline and crustal emissions aloft above the lakebed, leading to nearly 60% of PM10 [7]. Whether for the LSAs or the resuspended saline dust, their chemical composition depends on the characteristics of the lake and the source of emission. In a study on the spatial distribution of water-soluble ion concentrations in wet deposition samples around Lake Urmia, the world’s second largest hypersaline lake, it was found that the most dominant ions are as follows: Ca2+ > Cl > SO42− > Na+ > NO3. Meanwhile, organic acids and methanesulfonate (MSA) contributed negligibly to the total ion concentrations [27]. A principal component analysis (PCA) and correlation coefficient (CC) analyses showed that a majority of ions throughout the region were associated with salt and crustal particles comprising Cl, Br, SO42−, Na+, Ca2+, and Mg2+, with the minority of ions (e.g., NH4+ and NO3) stemming from anthropogenic emissions. Concurrent measurements of water-soluble ions in aerosol samples were also taken at two sites in the north and southeast of Lake Urmia from January 2013 to September 2013 [28]. Particulate matters (PMs) were measured using a high-volume sampler and HAZ-DUST EPAM-5000 particulate air monitors. The results, supported by backward trajectories and correlation analysis, indicated that the concentrations of SO42−, organic carbons (OCs), As, Pb, and Zn were at their maximum levels. Another investigation of aerosol properties near Lake Eyre in Central Australia, a dominant mineral dust source in the southern hemisphere, also highlighted the dominance of SO42−, Ca2+, Na+, and Cl; in the aerosols, implying that halite or reacted halite particles were included [29]. Previous research at Qinghai Lake, the largest saline lake in China, primarily focused on paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental information derived from lake sediments [30][31] and water chemistry [32]. A study conducted on Qinghai Lake by Zhang et al. [33] explored the chemical composition of PM2.5 and total suspended particulate (TSP) samples from June to September 2010, showing that the predominant anions and cations in both PM2.5 and TSP samples were SO42− and Ca2+, followed by NO3, Na+, K+, and Cl. Therein, the recorded mass concentrations were 21.27 ± 10.70 µg/m3 for PM2.5 and 41.47 ± 20.25 µg/m3 for TSP, with a mean PM2.5/TSP ratio of 0.51. It is implied that the water-soluble ions in PM2.5 and TSP were not only affected by lakewater but by acid gases from anthropogenic sources. Concentrations of the major ions in different Salt Lake aerosols are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Concentration of major ions (μg m−3) in different Salt Lake aerosols.
Site Sampling Period Size Fraction Na+ NH4+ K+ Mg2+ Ca2+ Cl NO3 SO42− Reference
Urmia Lake Jan–Sep (2013) TSP-(PM10)
(Mean value)
1.99 0.87 0.47 0.17 2.09 1.88 2.81 4.20 [28]
  Nov (2007), (Sample A) TSP 0.13 0.13 0.04 0.02 0.13 0.11 0.13 0.39  
Lake Eyre Sample (E) TSP 0.14 0.20 0.04 0.02 0.23 0.08 0.17 0.58 [29]
Qinghai Lake June–Sep (2010) PM2.5 0.13 - 0.12 0.06 0.23 0.07 0.38 4.45 [33]
TSP 0.48 - 0.13 0.26 0.72 0.39 1.3 5.04
The typical NaCl- and Na2SO4-containing aerosols were identified from the individual particle samples collected over the Yuncheng Salt Lake. Through SEM-EDX, not only the morphology and chemical compositions of NaCl- and Na2SO4-containing particles were illustrated, but also the elemental atomic concentrations were obtained using Monte Carlo Simulations by a modified CASINO Monte Carlo program [34][35]. The quantitative elemental composition analysis by low-Z particle EPMA revealed the atomic concentrations of a NaCl-containing particle as C 58.52%, Cl 21.96%, Na 17.48%, O 1.77%, and of a Na2SO4-containing particles as O 52.03%, Na 23.74%, S 14.48%, Mg 5.21%, and C 4.50%. It is noted that a high concentration of C is included in the NaCl-containing particles, and dark shades encircle particles in the secondary electron images, suggesting that a large amount of organic substance is included in the Salt Lake aerosols.
Regarding the fact that Salt Lake aerosols can be transported to the downwind area in the atmosphere, desiccated Salt Lakes and saline soils become the primary contributors to salt dust storms in arid regions. A comparative study was conducted on individual particles derived from a significant super dust storm (DS) with non-dust storm (NDS) aerosols in urban Beijing and a desert region located at Duolun, China [7]. A particle analysis, particularly through a Positive Matrix Factorization (PMF) analysis, revealed that the major components in (Na + S + Cl)-rich particles were Na2SO4 and NaCl, constituting 9% of the total particles and demonstrating a significant positive correlation between S and Cl. The identification of (Na + S + Cl)-containing particles was confirmed through both energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images, suggesting that the S-, Cl-, and Na-rich particles during the dust storm were likely not of desert origin but rather from dried Salt Lakes and saline soils in northern or northwest China [7].

3. Health Effects of Salt Lake Aerosols

The inhalation of aerosols from Salt Lakes, formed from fine salt particles suspended in the air, raises potential health concerns, particularly for respiratory and cardiovascular well-being. Originating from dry lakebeds or Salt Lakes, these aerosols can cause respiratory irritation and, in high concentrations, may lead to eye and skin discomfort. Research focusing on air pollution from Salt Lakes’ saline flow resources has gained prominence. A notable example is Lake Urmia, which has seen a significant increase in aerosol pollution over the past decade [36]. This concern is primarily linked to the extraction of deposited salts from the exposed saline flows on the lakebed. Alizadeh et al. [37] reported an inverse correlation between fluctuations in the water level of Lake Urmia and aerosol pollution. They observed an increase in the mean aerosol optical depth from 2010 to 2019, reaching 0.42, and a significant post-2013 surge in the annual mean PM10 concentration (this value is 15 µg m−3, from WHO global air quality guidelines [38]), peaking at approximately 876.13 μg m−3 in December 2015. It means that the decrease in the water level in Salt Lake might lead to an increase in ambient particulate matter, likely making hazardous effects on local people’s health. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), when whipped onto land by winds, can spray aerosolized toxins directly into the upper respiratory tract. Backer et al. [39] documented brevetoxins in nasal–pharyngeal swabs from people exposed to red tides. This highlights the potential health implications of inhaling aerosolized HAB toxins during such events. It is estimated that about 15% of asthma cases worldwide could be attributed to inhaling aerosolized HAB toxins in coastal areas, while a 2012 red tide outbreak in Florida was associated with approximately 11,000 hospitalizations and 4000 emergency room visits.
The Aral Sea region experiences strong, salty winds about 10 times a year, leading to the erosion of the dried lake bottom and the dispersion of large quantities of dust in the surrounding area. As Glantz (1999) reported [40], inhaling airborne dust has triggered various health problems, ranging from respiratory and skin issues to serious pulmonary diseases. The escalating levels of salt and inorganic substances in the lake have severe environmental impacts. Examining the effects of Salt Lake aerosols on Artemia parthenogenetica, a small crustacean thriving in Siberian lakes, is crucial for understanding the ecological impacts of elevated salinity levels [41]. A study investigating 27 populations of Artemia delves into the relationship between aerosol-induced salinity variations, the reproductive biology of Artemia females, and various biometric parameters [42]. With salinity levels ranging from 50 to 265 g L−1 in the study lakes, the research reveals intriguing patterns in shrimp biomass, cyst numbers, and brood characteristics across different salinity gradients of 70–144 g L−1, shedding light on the intricate ecological dynamics of this unique crustacean in response to aerosol-induced changes in its habitat.
Though salt dust storms from Salt Lakes have deleterious effects on nearby populations, such as those living near the Aral Sea, some studies suggest potential health benefits of Salt Lake aerosols, particularly in children [43]. Numerous studies have indicated that salt-containing aerosols can damage the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, lungs, liver, etc. However, there is contrasting evidence, including a study from the Aral Sea region showing that children living nearby have a lower chance of suffering from lung function injuries [43]. In China, there is direct evidence that Salt Lake aerosols are beneficial for lung therapy, and the positive effects of salt vapor therapy have been discussed in various studies. In the Occupational Disease Hospital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Urumqi, China, the clinical efficacy and safety of salt rock aerosol in the treatment of occupational pneumoconiosis were analyzed from 1 July 2018 to March 2010 [44]. A total of 120 patients with occupational pneumoconiosis who were treated were randomly selected as the main subjects. Twenty patients were in each group. The same basic treatment was given separately, and the treatment group applied conventional intervention as a basis for the treatment of rock salt aerosol, twice a day for 30 min. The results showed that not only the percentage improvement of the above indicators in the treatment group was significantly higher than that of the control group (p < 0.05), but also the cure time was significantly short compared with the control group: (13.6 ± 2.1) days vs. (20.4 ± 2.2) days, suggesting that, in the treatment options of occupational pneumoconiosis, the salt rock aerosol therapy is a non-drug, safe, and nontoxic method. In another study, a total of 452 subjects from six hospitals were divided based on the multilevel hierarchical random design [45]. The patients in the treatment group received “conventional comprehensive treatment + rock salt aerosol therapy”. Rock salt aerosol therapy showed more of a significant effect compared with the routine method. The clinical symptoms tend to be stable after two weeks of treatment with rock salt aerosol therapy. The curative effect increases with the extension of the treatment time. Two-to-four weeks for one course of treatment can improve the curative effect. It is concluded that rock salt aerosol therapy can effectively improve the quality of life of pneumoconiosis patients, suggesting that it is a good treatment and rehabilitation method for the prevention and treatment of pneumoconiosis; thus, it is worthy of clinical application. Hu and Li (2021) [46] reported that, compared with the routine clinical treatment, a routine clinical treatment such as bronchodilator combined with rock salt aerosol could significantly improve the forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1), the ratio of FEV1/Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), and other lung function indexes, and the clinical total effective rate reached 95.0%, implying that the bronchodilator combined with rock salt aerosol has outstanding clinical effect on the patients with pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A toxicological experiment indicated that the rock salt aerosol intervention can delay the pathogenesis of silicosis by improving the inflammatory response, regulating oxidative stress, and reducing interstitial fibrosis of lungs [47]. This suggests, in the future, the need for a broader discussion on the health effects of Salt Lake aerosols, incorporating large-scale epidemiological studies and conducting detailed investigations. Different therapies, such as Halotherapy and Inhaled Hypertonic Saline, are commonly used for treating respiratory disorders. Halotherapy involves inhaling salty air to clear mucus, which is a thick and sticky material in the lungs, nose, and other parts of the body, causing breathing problems. Inhaling salty aerosols reduces mucus thickness because the moisture in Salt Lake aerosols helps in thinning mucus (Figure 1). Inhaled Hypertonic Saline, a therapy involving the inhalation of a saline solution with a higher salt concentration than typically found in the body, is commonly used to manage certain respiratory conditions, particularly cystic fibrosis (CF) in younger children. It is a well-established therapy for individuals with CF.
Figure 1. Some possible health benefits of salt aerosols.


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