"It's amazing," Simpson said of the Salton Sea's smell during his 2013 trip. "It's evil. It was like licking down a car."
The greatest numbers of fish balls in 2013 showed up on the northern beaches, where wind-driven waves pushed the balls up to the high-water mark, said Elizabeth Heness, a collaborator who is now a graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The rotting fish balls are just the latest in a string of natural disasters to hit the inland lake, from pollution to massive fish and bird die-offs.
A canal breach created the Salton Sea in 1905. With no outlet and no water source except for farming run-off, the lake has been shrinking and growing saltier ever since. The water level is now less than 60 feet (18 meters) deep.
"This environmental catastrophe really shaped Southern California," Simpson said. "This should be in every environmental textbook."
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