As wildfires worsen, future clarity of Lake Tahoe is in doubt

A wildfire erupted in the mountains above Lake Tahoe, North America's largest alpine lake. The ash and embers that floated across a smokey sky punctured Lake Tahoe's blue waters.

As wildfires worsen, future clarity of Lake Tahoe is in doubt

Although the evacuation order has been lifted for thousands of people to evacuate their homes, those who returned found black ash stripes along the shoreline. This is a reminder that the Caldor Fire's success in fighting it won't protect the California-Nevada resort area from wildfire effects that last longer.

Scientists believe it is too early to draw any conclusions about the long-term effects of record-setting wildfires on Lake Tahoe. They aren't wasting their time. Many people expect to bring their research plans with them to the meeting of the Tahoe Science Advisory Council on Thursday.

California, Nevada, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe have funded scientists to study lake clarity and biodiversity after wildfires. To measure and quantify the amount of pollutants and particles that have been deposited in the otherwise crystal-clear water, they are using glass marbles-filled collection buckets. They are studying the effects of pollution on the lake's water quality, as well as how it moves around and how it affects algae production.

Even without wildfires, the clarity of this iconic lake can fluctuate. Lake Tahoe's average clarity is 65 feet (20m) below its surface. Scientists stationed at the lake's centre have been able see 50 feet (15 m) below the surface during wildfire season. This is a decrease they don't know if it's due to particles, algae, or just a lack of sunlight. Geoff Schladow, professor of civil engineering and director of University of California's Tahoe Environmental Research Center, stated that this was due to the reduction in visibility caused by the University of California's Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Schladow stated that "my feeling is, in certain ways, it may seem worse than it actually is." We don't know what the smoke from the basin does, especially when it lasts months. As we speak, we are discovering this.

In the past, smoke from Northern California wildfires has blanketed the Lake Tahoe basin. Scientists say that the intensity and size of the blazes has increased, partly due to climate change. The smoke from the wildfires within and outside the basin has been a visible haze over the lake for the past few years. This has disappointed many tourists and residents who visit the deep blue lake to enjoy the clean alpine air and pine trees.

Scientists are also concerned because they have spent many years studying the effects of pollution and algae from the 15 million vehicles used by tourists each year on clarity. The sheer volume of wildfire smoke left over could cause lake clarity problems that were not previously thought possible.

Allison Oliver, an ecologist with the Skeena Fisheries Commission (western Canada), said that "our bread-and-butter causes of declining lake clarity are pretty well understood." She studied how rivers and creeks brought murky sediment to Lake Tahoe following the 2007 Angora Fire.

She described the new phenomenon of "big shifts in climate regimes" and "big summer fires" as she spoke of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. "That's not something people saw 15 or 20 years ago." It's now routine.

Many days ago, smoke obscured the view of the lakes' pristine mountains and left a stench from the campfire that lingered on clothing, cars, and under fingernails.

Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, stated that "it's very obvious that we need to worry about not just fires burning within the basin that cause erosion, burn scars, and smoke from large fires outside the Basin." If we want Tahoe to remain blue for the next decades, it is time to think big.

The league is best known for its bumper stickers "Keep Tahoe Blue", which encourage people to keep the lake clean and prevent erosion. Patterson is concerned that local land management efforts will not be sufficient to preserve the lake in light of climate change.

Scientists are concerned that alpine lakes could act as "sponges", soaking up microscopic particles in wildfires smoke. Sudeep Chandra is a biology professor at the University of Nevada. He also directs the Global Water Center at University of Nevada, Reno. He believes that scientists will have to expand their research into factors that affect Lake Tahoe, regardless of whether smoke obscures sunlight for algae-fighting or increases the flow pollutants into the lake.

Chandra praised efforts to preserve lake clarity by restoring rivers, preventing erosion, and encouraging responsible development. After seeing how much smoke from California’s Dixie Fire further north, in the Sierra Nevada, ended up in the basin he realized that questions about the future of the lake need to be considered in light of climate change trends.

"We are clearly regionally connected. He said that this will be a new way to think about managing the Lake Tahoe basin.

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