7 Saltiest Bodies of Water in the World

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Contrary to popular belief, salt water isn’t found only in the world’s seas. All over the globe, there are ponds, lakes, and lagoons filled with extremely high levels of salt content. Even more peculiarly, these bodies of water are often much saltier than oceans. The Atlantic Ocean, which has a salinity of 3.7%, seems relatively mild when compared to other, smaller bodies of water that can have as much as 10 times the amount of salt. Read on to discover which small, extremely salty pond tops the list.

Dead Sea (Israel, Jordan, and Palestine)

The Dead Sea with palm trees on the shore in Israel
Credit: vvvita/ Shutterstock

No doubt one of the world’s most famous bodies of water, the Dead Sea is not the saltiest, nor is it a sea. Still, the endorheic lake has a salinity of 33.7%, which is quite respectable. And the Dead Sea is remarkable for many other reasons. Located more than 1,000 feet below sea level, it’s not only the lowest body of water in the world, it’s also the lowest land point on Earth. The spot is incredibly popular with tourists, with visitors from around the world making the pilgrimage to float in its salty waters. The lake’s minerals, including sodium and calcium chloride, are said to have health benefits that range from boosting immunity to strengthening bones, which likely contributes to the Dead Sea’s popularity.

Lake Assal (Djibouti)

Lake Assal in Djibouti with mountain ranges in distance
Credit: Dave Primov/ Shutterstock

With a salinity of 34.8%, Lake Assal is located approximately 515 feet below sea level, the lowest land point in Africa. Found in the desert region of central Djibouti, Lake Assal is surrounded by inactive volcanoes and black lava sediment. The contrast between the lake’s turquoise waters and the surrounding stark landscape draws many visitors, most of whom float in the highly saline waters as a relaxing pastime. As the lake is the largest salt reserve in the world, harvesting its salt is a long held tradition of the local Afar tribes. Traditionally, the Afar tribes used camel caravans to transport the salt from the lake, most often selling the “white gold” to tourists.

Garabogazköl Basin (Turkmenistan)

Close-up of map showing Caspian Sea and Garabogazköl Basin
Credit: 200mm/ iStock

A large salt-water lagoon located on the coast of Turkmenistan, Garabogazköl Basin is fed from a Caspian Sea inlet. At only 33 feet deep, Garabogazköl has a salinity of 35%, making it one of the largest deposits of marine salts in the world. The lagoon is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land, but it hasn’t always been connected to its water source. Worried that the Caspian Sea was shrinking, officials blocked the lagoon’s inlet in the 1980s, an act that turned the lagoon into a lake. When the lack of water caused the lake to dry out, it transformed into a barren salt pan that wreaked havoc on the environment and air quality. The error was remedied a decade later when the dam was broken and water was once again allowed to flow into the basin.

Lake Vanda (Antarctica)

Lake Vanda is located in Antarctica’s Wright Valley, a dry region of the continent found within a rainshadow. The surrounding Transantarctic Mountains prevent precipitation around Lake Vanda, which means the salty lake is never lost under a blanket of snow. But still, at 3 miles long and 250 feet deep, Lake Vanda’s surface is perpetually covered in ice. This is caused by a thermal inversion; as the salt sinks to the bottom of the lake, the purer surface water is able to evaporate. As a result, the top layer of the lake is able to freeze while the 35% saline water on the lake floor heats up to an average of 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lake Retba (Senegal)

Lake Retba in Senegal with boats resting on land
Credit: Ssviluppo/ iStock

Lake Retba in Senegal is known not only for its saltwater, recorded at 40% salinity but also for its color, which turns a shocking pink during the dry season. The color comes from Dunaliella salina, a micro-algae often found in high-density saline lakes. In the rainy season, which typically runs from July to October, the added water dilutes the lake’s salinity, diminishing the rosy hue. Nicknamed “Lac Rose” by the French-speaking community, Lake Retba is an important asset to the salt industry, with 1,000 workers harvesting an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 tons of salt a year. The salt is bought by Senegalese fisherman as a way to preserve fish and also exported to neighboring countries.

Don Juan Pond (Antarctica)

Edging into second place with a 40.2% salinity, Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond has intrigued astrobiologists for decades. Tucked beneath the Transantarctic Mountain, Don Juan is small in size, approximately the size of a football field and only four inches deep, but high in calcium chloride — a fact that prevents the waters from freezing, even when temperatures dip well below zero. Scientists and researchers are fascinated by the pond because they believe the water source’s environment resembles the topography on Mars. By studying the activity of the pond and the surrounding landscape, researchers hope to gain insight into the mysterious ways of the Red Planet.

Gaet’ale Pond (Ethiopia)

Gaet’ale Pond in Ethiopia
Credit: ilf_/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

With a salinity of 43.3%, Gaet’ale Pond is the saltiest body of water on Earth. Found in the Afar Depression, a remote Ethiopian landscape that is tectonically active, the pond is situated just outside the Dallol crater. In addition to the local name of “Gaet’ale,” other nicknames for this particular body of water include “yellow lake” and “oily lake.” Formed after a 2005 earthquake reactivated a thermal spring beneath the pond, Gaet’ale’s temperatures are scorching, ranging from 122-131 degrees Fahrenheit. As there is no freshwater inlet or outlet, it is the presence of calcium chloride and magnesium chloride that accounts for the pond’s record-breaking salinity.


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