Rare salt formations appear along the Great Salt Lake

ANTARTICA-Rare salt formations have been documented for the first time on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and they could yield insights about salt structures found on Mars before they disappear for good. They’re showing up now in part because water levels at the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi have been lowered by drought and water diversion, exposing more shoreline. It’s a story that’s playing out throughout the American West as a growing population puts more demand on scarce water resources. Along the high-salinity waters Great Salt Lake, the expanded shoreline means there are more places where water can bubble up to the surface from warm, sulfate-rich springs. When it hits the cold air, a mineral called Glauber’s salt, or mirabilite, separates out. “It has to be exposed to just the right conditions,” said park ranger Allison Thompson, who first saw them in October. The tiny crystals have built up over the last several months, eventually creating flat terraces stacked atop one another like the travertine rimstone and dam terraces at Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs. From far away, the mounds can blend into the snowy landscape along the flat blue of the lake edged by distant mountains. From above, though, the cascading terraces are like an enormous piece of lace laid over the sandy earth. An up-close look reveals long, spire-like crystals clustered jaggedly together like something out of science fiction. There are now four mounds at the Great Salt Lake beach, growing up to 3 feet (1 meter) tall and several yards wide.

Robots out of work as automated businesses close

SAN FRANCISCO-It has been a bad week for robots in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Silicon Valley company that used robots to make its pizzas closed this week, and three coffee shops in downtown San Francisco that used robots as baristas also shuttered. Zume Pizza said it is cutting 172 jobs in Mountain View and eliminating another 80 jobs at its facility in San Francisco. Zume Chief Executive Alex Garden made the announcement in an email to employees Wednesday, the Mercury News in San Jose reported. The Mountain View startup, which first began delivering pizzas in 2016, said it intends to focus on its food packaging and delivery systems. Garden said former employees will be able to apply for the 100 new positions Zume expects to have in its packaging business.

In San Francisco, Cafe X closed three of its coffee shops in the financial district. The startup’s founder, Henry Hu, said the downtown cafes helped develop the newest machine being used at shops at San Francisco International Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

When Cafe X launched in 2017, its robotic baristas joined robots that made smoothies and hamburgers or mixed and dispensed salads and quinoa bowls.

Cafe X will continue to have competition in the automated coffee market. Briggo Coffee Haus has a robotic barista that can make 100 drinks per hour at San Francisco airport’s Terminal 3, the Chronicle reported.

Robotics have boomed in warehouses to speed up productivity and bring down costs and increasingly have moved into industries like food service.

In the Bay Area, the popularity of robots stems in part from the region’s infatuation with technology, food and automation.