Rob Baskin

Supervisory Hydrologist

U.S. Geological Survey


Rob began his efforts on Great Salt Lake during the birth of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Project over 20 years ago.  He worked closely with the late Doyle Stephens in the development and testing of sampling protocols and monitoring methods used to quantify brine shrimp population dynamics and document water quality in the lake.

Rob is also responsible for the bathymetric maps and area/volume relations that are widely used for understanding the relations between lake level and physical, chemical, and biological processes in Great Salt Lake. The bathymetric maps and area/volume relations also are vital components in defining the health of the lake and in management efforts.

Rob’s recent efforts on Great Salt Lake include examining patterns of modern microbialite occurrence to identify processes that control microbialite initiation, growth, morphology, and preservation, and their contributions to the ecology of Great Salt Lake.

Rob holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geology, and Masters and Ph.D degrees in Geography. He has extensive experience working on lakes and reservoirs throughout the western US, has been the principal or co-author on over 30 publications, and is currently juggling four projects as a Supervisory Hydrologist for the U.S Geological Survey.

Title: Microbial Bioherms in Great Salt Lake, Utah

10:00am - Wednesday, May 11th

Abstract: Beneath the saline waters of Great Salt Lake lies a virtually unexplored repository of environmental data that documents the tectonic, climatic, and catchment evolution of the present-day lake. As Great Salt Lake continues evolve, it maintains a history of the geographic, geologic, hydrologic, chemical, and biological events that have given rise to this modern interior sea, its ecosystem, and its environs. To see into the past and determine how Great Salt Lake came to be, one only needs to unravel the story written in the more than 3,000 meters of sediment that lies beneath its saline waters.

At the interface between water and sediment, the confluence of the past and present, lays an ecosystem most influenced by the tectonic, climatic, and catchment conditions we know today. Hidden beneath the murky waters of Great Salt Lake resides the largest known extent of living microbial bioherms in the world.  Reported by Eardley (1938) as “biostromes” and little studied over the last 75 years, vast accumulations of microbial bioherms line the shallow margins of the lake. Patterns of bioherm occurrence are non-random and vary from statistically dispersed individuals to clustered, laterally-continuous “reef-like” deposits.  Individual bioherms range in size from centimeters to over 2 meters in diameter with measured heights of more than 1.5 meters above adjacent substrate. A combination of life and rock, such large occurrences of these cyanobacterial communities – and the carbonate structures they build as their homes – are rare.  This research identifies variations in the occurrence, distribution, and morphology of microbial bioherms in Great Salt Lake and provides insights into environmental influences on the benthic microbialite community and the effects of this community on the physical, chemical, and biological components of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.