Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 8:28 EDT
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July 25, 2011
Southern Californias Salton Sea is routinely a prominent visual for astronauts passing overhead on the shuttle or International Space Station (ISS). This large lake, photographed from the station while docked to the Space Shuttle Endeavour by one of the STS-111 crew members, supports the rich agricultural fields of the Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali Valleys in the California and Mexico desert. According to geologists, the Salton Sea formed by accident in 1905 when an irrigation canal ruptured, allowing the Colorado River to flood the Salton Basin. Today the Sea performs an important function as the sink for agricultural runoff. Water levels are maintained by the runoff from the surrounding agricultural valleys. The Salton Sea salinity is high -- nearly 1/4 saltier than ocean water --but it remains an important stopover point for migratory water birds, including several endangered species. Scientists also noted that the region experiences several environmental problems. The recent increased demands for the limited Colorado River water, the scientists point out, threatens the amount of water allowed to flow into the Salton Sea, and increased salinity with decreased water levels could trigger several regional environmental crises. The agricultural flow into the Sea includes nutrients and agricultural by-products, increasing the productivity and likelihood of algae blooms. This image shows either a bloom, or suspended sediment (usually highly organic) in the water that has been stirred up by winds.