Fantasised about traveling to Mars? Turns out you can experience an analog to Martian environments right here in the Wheatbelt.
Pink Lake in the Shire of Quairading might look delicious with its pink colour, but you definitely would not want to try drinking it. It’s so salty that lakes like this are being used by scientists to develop our understanding of early Mars, as well as experiment with new techniques that could be used in planetary investigations.
For a long time, it was assumed that micro algae were responsible for the pink colour. But, in 2015 the eXtreme Microbiome Project found that the most likely cause is a bacterium producing a pigment called bacterioruberin. This pigments helps the bacterium collect light to produce energy.
Depending on conditions, half of the lake is a distinctive pink colour whilst the other half remains blue. The lake is generally at its most vibrant during the peak of summer, where heat and high salinity provide the ideal environment for the bacterium.
Are salt lakes a sign that the Wheatbelt’s environment is in trouble? The answer is complex, but some salt lakes have been saline for a long time, well prior to clearing of the Wheatbelt occurred so those lakes are referred to as sites of primary salinisation. These lakes cover less than one per centre of the Wheatbelt.
Clearing of vegetation, resulting in deep-rooted perennials being replaced with shallow rooted crops has certainly impacted on salinity. These types of vegetation use far less water than their predecessors, and as a result the watertables have risen and salt that had been stored deep within the soil profile has moved to the surface.
The impact has been far reaching – from waterlogged soils no longer being able to support their native vegetation and consequently altering the ecosystem, through to the mobilised salt creating secondary salinisation of many waterbodies of the Wheatbelt.
Where to find it
Bruce Rock Rd, Quairading.
Quairading Community Resource Centre
Parker St, Quairading
Phone: 9645 0096