China’s Yuncheng Salt Lake: A Kaleidoscope of Color

The colorful Yuncheng Salt Lake in China
The colorful Yuncheng Salt Lake in China
Yuncheng Salt Lake, China

For thousands of years, Yuncheng Salt Lake has served as an important source of salt for residents all over China. Located in the Shanxi Province in Northern China, the lake, nicknamed “China’s Dead Sea,” has been the focus of numerous wars, territorial disputes, and religious traditions for over 4,000 years. Ancient people even worshipped “salt gods” in nearby temples to pay homage to the lake.

The lake is not just functional, however. Because of the always-changing composites of the lake and silt, the water is a living kaleidoscope of color. In the summer, blooms from the algae Dunaliella Salina cause the water to present a rainbow of crimsons, blues, and greens. The myriad jewel tones look like a stained glass window from above, separated by the grey lines of the salt ridges.

In the winter months, the algae fade and are replaced with a crystalline display of fantastical sculptures. The structures, created from mirabilite or “Glauber’s salt,” consist of a thick, quartz-like sodium sulfite that grows in cold temperatures.

Visitors flock to Yuncheng Lake in both seasons, mesmerized by the changing landscapes and transfixing colors. Unfortunately, much of the lake’s beauty may stem from pollution caused by the algal blooms. As algae block oxygen and sunlight from reaching below the lake’s surface, other species of plants and animals that reside in the lake may die.

Chinese officials are working to reverse the pollution and environmental concerns of the algal blooms. Cleaner water may diminish the vibrant colors, but it will also ensure the revitalization of the wildlife in Yuncheng Lake and the possibility of harvesting salt for culinary use again, which is an integral part of the Shanxi cultural heritage.