How Do Lakes Turn Pink?
There are many large bodies of water that have a surprising characteristic: the water is a shocking shade of pink! This phenomenon is not due to chemical contamination or pollution. A natural reaction between a certain type of bacteria and algae are responsible for the rose tinted water.
All of the pink lakes around the globe have a common denominator. An extremely high salt content is present in all of the lakes. The extremely salty water allows for three different biological entities that turn the water pink:
- An algae called Dunaliella salina.
- A bacteria called Salinobacter ruber.
- Halophilic archaea
The algae, archaea, and bacteria exist in extremely salty environments. If the salinity in their environment decreases, Halophilic archaea, Dunaliella and Salinobacter all perish. Since all require salt to survive, they are termed halophiles (literally, "salt-lovers").
The algae tints the water with β-carotene, an anti-oxidant that gives carrots an orange color. It uses the caretenoid pigments as protection from strong light. Orange patches may appear in the water where high concentrations of Dunaliella exist.
It is believed the algae is not primarily responsible for the pink coloration, however. A halophilic bacteria named Salinobacter ruber may also contribute to the pink coloration. Salinobacter produces a caretenoid-like pigment.
The primary cause behind the vast majority of pink lakes is a single celled organism called Halophilic Archaea. These single-celled organisms have no cell nucleus and no cellular organelles, and are distinct from bacteria. These archaea will not grow in salt concentrations less than 20%, so only very salty bodies of water will support the archaea and develop the pink coloration.
Hillier Lake, Australia
Lake Hillier in Australia
While the vast majority of pink lakes occur because of algal growth in a salty body of water, the pink color of Lake Hillier's water remains unexplained. Algae may be responsible for the pink color, though the presence of red halophilic archaea probably contribute to the rosy hue.
Located in a strand of islands called the Recherche Archipelago in Western Australia, the lake has a startling pink color and is often a surprising geographical landmark observed by airline passengers. The lake is located on Middle Island, and is separated from the Southern Ocean by a strip of sand. Evaporation has caused the lake to have a very high concentration of salt, and the entire lake is rimmed in a salty crust.
The lake was mined for salt in the early part of the 20th century, but the practice has been abandoned and the lake is now considered one of Australia's natural wonders.
Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia
Hutt Lagoon (Western Australia)
Another salty lake in Western Australia, Hutt Lagoon is separated from the Indian Ocean by a narrow strip of land. The lagoon is at a lower elevation than sea level, which allows salt from the nearby ocean to continually seep into the lake.
The lake is largely evaporated in the summer, and exists as a salt flat during the hot months of the year. The lake is filled during the rainy winter season, and obtains its pink color due to the presence of archaea and algae. The lake is only about 3 feet deep, but is 8.6 miles long and 1.4 miles wide during the wet season.
Pink Lake in Western Australia
Pink Lake in Western Australia
A combination of brine prawn, algae, and halophilic bacteria give Pink Lake its color. The lake is not constantly pink, but varies in color by the season. As the salinity increases, the lake appears pink in color. If the salinity decreases (as in the wet season), the lake may appear less pink.
Solar ponds exist on the eastern end of the lake, where salt is harvested for use as table salt and as water softeners. The best view of the lake is from the Pink Lake Lookout, located on Pink Lake Road in Esperance. Use a polarizer or a lens from a pair of sunglasses over a camera lens to obtain the best pictures of the pink water.
Pink Lakes in Western Australia
Lake Retba in Senegal
Located in Senegal, Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, is known for its amazing pink color. Like all of the other pink lakes, Lac Rose has an extremely high level of salt in its water. The lake is mined for salt, and local salt collectors must rub their bodies in Shea butter prior to spending 6-7 hours in the harsh, salty environment.
As with the other salty lakes, Retba is shallow. The maximum depth of the lake is only 3 meters, or about 10 feet deep. The lake has an area of a square mile, and is located about 22 miles from Senegal's capital city of Dakar.
Lake Magadi (Kenya)
Lake Magadi, Kenya
Lake Magadi is an alkaline saline lake. The lake contains high concentrations of sodium carbonate and sodium sesquicarbonate. The lake is surrounded by massive salt flats, and flamingos flock to its waters because the salt flats create a natural barrier to predatory animals. The precipitated salt is sometimes 130 feet deep!
The lake used to be a freshwater lake, but volcanic sediments and evaporation have increased the salinity and alkalinity of the lake over the past few thousand years. In addition, saline hot springs continually feed the lake with alkaline, hot water. The hot springs in the area produce water as hot as 187°F (86°C).
The lake is now mined by the Magadi Soda Factory, which produces soda ash (washing soda) from the water.
Pink Lakes in Africa
Pink Salt Flats of California and Nevada.
The salt flats in California's desert also sport a pink color. Owen's lake has very little water, and only a thin layer of brine covers the salty ground. Solar evaporation ponds that once belonged to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass soda ash factory still exist in the area, and are sometimes brilliant red in color. The lake bed is located along Highway 395, just south of Lone Pine.
East of Fallon, Nevada are more salt flats. These salt flats are along Highway 50 and are a bright pink color.
Both of these salt flats are due to the presence of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The deep valleys of the Sierra Nevadas created huge lakes - as the lakes have evaporated over time, huge mineral deposits and salt flats were left behind.
Salina de Torrevieja
Salina de Torrevieja, Located in Spain
Torrevieja, located in Alicante, Spain, has two large salt lakes. The "salinas" have been a major producer of salt for Europe since the 19th century, when Swedish and Dutch ships exported the salt to foreign markets. The salt industry is still beneficial to the local population, and a Museum of Sea and Salt is open to educate tourists on the industry.
Torrevieja is now a national park. The two salt lagoons are separated by a small strip of land called the Chaparral. Two channels have been dug to allow the lagoons to communicate with the sea: this forms the basis for the local salt mining operation.
Dusty Rose Lake in Canada
Located in British Columbia, Dusty Rose Lake is in Tweedsmuir Park, north of Bella Coola. The lake can be accessed by hiking and climbing Thunder Mountain. The water is a muted pink color, and is striking against the natural green mountainside flora.
Dusty Rose Lake in British Columbia
Masazir Lake, Azerbaijan
Masazirgol, or Masazir lake, is located near Baku, Azerbaijan. The lake is filled with sulphates and has a high level of salinity. A salt mining operation was added to the lake in 2010. The lake is approximately 6.2 square miles in area, and can produce up to 1,735 million tons of salt.
Masazir Lake in Azerbaijan
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 18, 2015:
I would desperately love to see one of these lakes in person - the lake in Australia is absolutely stunning!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 02, 2015:
Leah, this was a real fascinating read about those pink lakes around the world. Thanks for sharing.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 21, 2013:
I'm keen on the one in Kenya, Alicia - the idea of a lake made alkaline with natural sodium carbonate (washing soda) fascinates me. The pink water and flamingos sound so cool!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 21, 2013:
This is such an interesting topic, Leah! Thanks for sharing the information and the photos. I'd love to see some of these lakes in real life.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 16, 2013:
They're really interesting, aren't they? Some of them are strikingly pink (like Lake Hillier) and others are only pink in the right season (dependent on algae and archaea growth). Too bad we don't have one in Western NY, Lipnancy!
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on January 16, 2013:
I had never heard of a pink lake. This information was new to me.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 14, 2013:
I do think one would get weary of traveling non-stop, Peggy - it does feel good to come home after a vacation. I do love seeing different parts of the world, though, and would love to do a bit more travel! I have friends in Australia, so maybe I'll make it to Lake Hillier one day!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 13, 2013:
And I second your last comment Leah. I would probably want to take a break from traveling full-time...but it would certainly be nice to be able to do it whenever one would like. The saltiest lake that I ever saw in person was Salt Lake in Utah but it was not pink in color. Would be fascinating to see a pink lake knowing what caused it. Thanks for the education. Up, useful and interesting votes.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 02, 2013:
If I had a million dollars, teaches12345, I would travel full-time. I just love seeing all of the amazing places that exist on our planet!
Dianna Mendez on January 01, 2013:
Really interesting post, Leah. I didn't know there were pink lakes. I would love to see one up close some day. Voted up.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 01, 2013:
I love it, Rose - especially Lake Magadi. It is pink for two reasons: the archaea in its waters, and the flamingos that live along its shores! I'd love to see that lake in particular. I'd love to travel to see all of the pink lakes! I have seen the salt flats in California, as we used to live there and travel to Mammoth frequently.
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 31, 2012:
What an interesting phenomenon! I had no idea. Thanks for the great information.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 31, 2012:
The color is really startling. If you remove the water into a separate container, the water remains pink in color - Lake Hillier is on my bucket list. I'd love to see it in person!
Claudia Mitchell on December 31, 2012:
Fascinating. Did not know there were such things as pink lakes. Thanks for introducing them to us.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 30, 2012:
Thank you, Louise - I thought the pink lakes were fascinating. Lake Hillier in Australia is such a striking shade of pink, it is almost unbelievable!
Louise Hagan on December 30, 2012:
Informative and fascinating. More articles of geological interest would be great. Thanks.