Climate Change Is Altering One of Utah's Most Famous Works of Art
Michael David Murphy via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-2.5
Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s monumental artwork along the shore of the Great Salt Lake, is getting farther and farther away from the lake itself. Though Smithson designed it in 1970 with the idea that the red-hued water on the lake’s northern shore would ebb and flow, ongoing droughts are likely to make it permanently dry, according to Hyperallergic.
The sculpture—a 1500-foot-long, 15-foot wide coil of rocks—has been completely obscured by the lake’s saline waters before. It was created during a low-level time in the lake’s history, and when the lake returned to normal levels just a few years later, it was completely submerged. It was invisible, viewed only through photos and videos taken during its creation. But since 2002, continued droughts in Utah have brought it above the water line for the long term. Rather than reddish water, the black basalt rocks that make up the sculpture are now covered in salt crystals.
The water is not going to come back to the sculpture anytime soon. The lake currently is experiencing its lowest water levels in recorded history. Between October 2015 and October 2016, the shoreline of the lake’s northern arm fell by almost 10 inches, from 4190 feet above sea level to 4189.2 feet. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s a drastic difference from the lake’s historic high-water mark, at 4211.2 feet above sea level.
Smithson may have actually been pleased with the development. According to the Dia Art Foundation, the museum that now owns the piece, Smithson was “fixated on the chance operations of nature that lead to a state of transformation.” As the shoreline continues to recede, the sculpture will continue to transform.