The Earth is mostly water, but can you name the 12 largest saltwater lakes in the world?
About 71% of the Earth is water, and there are various body types that makeup all that water. Saltwater lakes differ from regular lakes in terms of their dissolved salts and mineral content. A rule of thumb to differentiate salt water or saline lakes from others is that generally, you will find over three grams of salt per liter of water in a saline lake. Experts believe there are around 2 million lakes in the world, and even though the majority are freshwater lakes, there are still plenty with saltwater. The Great Salt Lake in Utah and Walker Lake in Nevada are just a couple examples of saltwater lakes in the United States. The list of salt lakes in the USA, however, is pretty short. So, our list of salt lakes will focus on saltwater lakes in the world based on their size. Naturally, some of the lakes on our list would also be great contenders for the title of “most salty lake in the world” because their saline levels are all that high. If you would rather explore some freshwater lakes, take a look at our list largest freshwater lakes in the world by volume.
Saltwater lakes do not discriminate when it comes to location and they can be found all around the world, in all kinds of climates. Many people are interested in the bodies of water in India, and if you are one of those people, check out the largest freshwater lakes in India. When it comes to saltwater though, the largest saltwater lake in India is also the largest saltwater lake in Asia and that is Chilika Lake. Chilika Lake is located on the eastern side of the country, not too far from the Bay of Bengal. The lake is known for the many varieties of birds who call it home, and it has become a popular tourist destination.
Now that we have the salt water lakes defined and have given you some background, we need to come up with a metric in order to determine how big they are. Well, there are quite a few routes we could take. We could measure them by volume, by their depth or by the land area they cover. For the purposes of this article about the largest saltwater lakes in the world, we have decided to go with the area they cover, meaning we will only talk about saltwater lakes that are largest in terms of surface area, and not depth or volume.
Thankfully, there are many websites and scientists out there that have already done the hard work of measuring the lakes of the world. For our purposes, we merely had to identify the salt water lakes from those lists, and then rank them in accordance with the surface area they cover. We sought help from websites like Vaughns (a general knowledge website), the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and World Lakes. Of course, we put Google through its paces to obtain more information as well. The raking was pretty straightforward, the more area a lake covers, the higher it has been placed on the list.
Let’s dive right into our list of 12 largest saltwater lakes in the world.
12. Siling Lake
Area: 720 mi²
Basin countries: China
This lake is located in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and by the area covered the lake is the second largest saltwater lake in the northern Tibetan Plateau. In 1993, the lake was included in the Siling Co-National Nature Reserve. It is home to over 120 species of birds, among which the most prolific are the black-necked cranes.
11. Lake Namtso
Area: 741 mi²
Basin countries: China
Lake Namtso, also known as Lake Nam (literally meaning Heavenly Lake), is situated at the border between Damxung County of Lhasa prefecture-level city and Baingoin County of Nagqu Prefecture, in the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is the largest saline lake in the whole of Tibet Autonomous Region.
10. Lake Barlee
Area: 764 mi²
Basin countries: Australia
At number 10 in our list of the largest saltwater lakes in the world we have a lake located in Western Australia, and it is the second largest lake by area in the region. One outstanding feature of this lake is that it is considered to be an intermittent salt lake, meaning that at times this lake can disappear completely, and it comes back once in a season. The lake is named after Frederick Barlee, the Colonial Secretary of Western Australia during 1869 when the lake was discovered.
9. Mar Chiquita Lake
Area: 772 mi²
Basin countries: Argentina
Mar Chiquita Lake or Mar de Ansenuza is located northeast of the province of Córdoba in central Argentina. It is an endorheic salt lake. Endorheic salt lakes are formed when water basins do not allow outflow of water and retain water within. Over time water evaporates, and leaves behind a body of water that has a high concentration of heavier mineral elements and various types of salts.
8. Lake Alakol
Area: 1,023 mi²
Basin countries: Kazakhstan
Lake Alakol covers over a thousand square miles of land, which is as you can imagine is really massive. The lake is located near the provinces of Almaty and Shyghyz, in Kazakhstan, and it has been made into a sanctuary in order to preserve the breeding grounds of several wetland birds and other animals. Perhaps the most noteworthy example of rare species would be the very rare relict gull.
7. Lake Poopó
Area: 1,232 mi²
Basin countries: Bolivia
We are halfway through our list of 12 largest saltwater lakes in the world, and at number 7 we have Lake Poopó from Bolivia. If you were to visit Lake Poopó right now, you would be a bit disappointed, as the lake has all dried up save for a few marshy areas. This happens because the lake has a mean depth of merely 10 meters or 30 feet. However, the lake did dry up several times in the past, and recovered, so we can imagine this time it will recover as well.
6. Uvs Lake
Area: 1,293 mi²
Basin countries: Mongolia
Uvs Lake is the largest lake in Mongolia by surface area. It covers an astonishing 1,293 mi² or 3,350 km². It is a high saline lake in an endorheic basin in Mongolia with a small part in Russia. This lake has great historical significance and serves as a reminder that thousands of years ago, a massive saline sea covered a much larger area than what it does now.
5. Bakhtegan Lake
Area: 1,351 mi²
Basin countries: Iran
Bakhtegan Lake is raked fifth in our list of the largest saltwater lakes in the world. This lake bears witness to the destructive side of development. Lake Bakhtegan used to be the second largest lake by surface area and the largest saline lake in Iran. However, in recent years several dams built by the Iranian government have caused the lake to dry up, and also increased the salinity of the water. This, in turn, has made all the species the lake supported endangered in the area – especially the flamingos and other migratory birds.
4. Lake Van
Area: 1,450 mi²
Basin countries: Turkey
Lake Van is located near its namesake the provinces of Van and Bitlis. It is the largest lake in the country with a surface area of over 1,450 mi² or 3,755 km². It is the only saline soda lake that made it into the list of largest saltwater lakes in the world. If you are wondering what a soda lake is – it’s basically a body of landlocked water that is on the strong alkaline side of neutrality. In other words, the pH value is above 7, typically somewhere between 9 to 12.
3. Great Salt Lake
Area: 1,699 mi²
Basin countries: United States
As we mentioned earlier, the Great Salt Lake is located in the Northern part of the country, in the state of Utah. It is the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere. The amazing thing about this lake is, that it has been termed as the Dead Sea of America, but despite that, it harbors millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds, and waterfowl despite the high saline and mineral content of its water.
2. Lake Urmia
Area: 2,008 mi²
Basin countries: Iran
Lake Urmia is located in between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan in Iran. Thankfully, this lake has been protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment. Despite this, the lake has shrunken about 10% due to placements of dams and other constraints. However, the future of this lake seems to be protected at least. The lake has over 100 islands and is home to many animal species, some of which are engendered.
1. Chott el Djerid
Area: 2,703 mi²
Basin countries: Tunisia
This lake is located in southern Tunisia, and this is the largest landlocked body of water that we can call a “salt lake” and get away with it. It covers a surface area of over 2,700 square miles. However, then there is the Caspian Sea which does fit the description of a salt lake but covers a surface area of 143,244 mi². Anyway, for obvious reasons we could not nominate the Caspian sea as the world’s largest salt lake thus Chott el Djerid will have to suffice.
This wraps it up for our list of 12 Largest Saltwater Lakes In The World.