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Going Great Lengths to Save the Salt Lake

Being an environmental steward is so much more than politics or science. It’s something within us that is divine from God.
Karoline Busche

In June 2022, Karoline Busche (PWS ’24) came across a headline from The New York Times describing her local lake as an “environmental nuclear bomb.” In her mind, it was a beautiful little ocean where her father took her sailing as a child. The article sparked an urgent need for her to act—she didn’t want to see that childhood treasure become empty and barren. Busche immediately started researching the Great Salt Lake’s failing ecosystem.

Her passion for the lake’s preservation was more than academic. Faith-based addresses on the environment from Dr. Paul Cox and Bishop Gérald Caussé last fall helped her tie her spirituality to the responsibility she felt to address the future of the lake. Busche felt pressed by their words to do good with the talents given to her—but she wasn’t sure how to get involved in stewardship. “Being an environmental steward is so much more than politics or science,” Busche reflected. “It’s something within us that is divine from God.”

Busche's passion spurred her confidence to follow up with Dr. Ben Abbott on his new project: quantifying the Great Salt Lake’s water loss. They used US Geological Survey data and Google Earth Engine to map climate cycles alongside the declining water levels.

Like Ripples in a Pond

What Busche couldn’t have predicted that summer was that her own work would soon be making headlines. Her data analysis led to a joint report that brought BYU together with five universities, four non-profits, and three working ecology professionals. Busche was listed as a co-author alongside five fellow students and ten BYU faculty and staff members across five colleges.

“It was a really cool, collaborative effort,” Busche described. “There is something so beautiful about the scientific community and how people just want to work together. So many professors at our school and USU spent time over Christmas break to all write together.”

The team decided to publish a simplified report to make their research accessible to the general public. According to Busche, they wanted Utahns to understand the difficulties of and solutions for refilling the lake, “so we can take better care of it.” The report also included a list of possible solutions for Utah lawmakers to consider, so the researchers released it before the state legislative session.

A light-skinned woman with waist-length dirty blonde hair pulled back in the braid sits on the edge of a boat looking over a lake with mountains in the background.
Busche looking thoughtfully over the Great Salt Lake.
Photo by Karoline Busche

Sailing Towards Her Future

Busche is grateful to all her plant and wildlife science professors and classes for cultivating an environment of curiosity by encouraging students to analyze peer-reviewed scientific papers and conduct their own research. She’s found that an encouraging and enthusiastic professor makes all the difference. “When I first reached out to Dr. Abbott about doing this project, he was so excited,” Busche said. “I felt like I could do it because he had confidence in me, even though he didn't really know me that well, at that point.”

Busche will submit her work for preprint in April, just in time for the summer water usage management strategies. After that, Busche will use her time at BYU to explore more projects. To other students who may feel hesitant about starting their own research, Busche advised, “Sometimes you think of projects, and it seems like a lot of extra work, and it is... but that's the whole reason we're here at school: to learn about what we want to learn about.”