Exploration of Lake Tahoe depth begins | SierraSun.com

Exploration of Lake Tahoe depth begins

Jonah M. Kessel/Sun news service
Jonah M. Kessel | Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tr

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE “-Members of a team that will spend the next month exploring Lake Tahoe in a manned submersible got their first glimpse of the lake’s depths on Thursday afternoon.

Three members of the Undersea Voyager Project launched from the Tahoe Keys Marina using a SEAmagine SEAMobile ” a craft that looks kind of like an undersized yellow pontoon boat with an oversized spherical fishbowl attached to the front.

After the submersible reached a sufficiently deep area of the lake, the trio dropped the vessel to about 50 feet for about 30 minutes before returning to the surface.

Thursday’s dive was a “shakedown” ” a test run to make sure the submersible was operating properly away from its customary saltwater haunts, said the project’s founder and leader, Scott Cassell.

For this dive, Cassell rode shotgun ” sitting on the back of the SeaMobile and using an external breathing apparatus on the craft to accompany the vessel down.

Cassell said he was pleased with the team’s first dive.

“I must say it went well,” Cassell said shortly after the dive, remarking about the lake’s famed clarity. Cassell seemed both surprised and excited that he could still see the lake’s surface when the submersible was 50 feet down.

Over the next month, Cassell’s 14-member team will tour the lake at depths between 100 and 200 feet and collect data on a range of issues.

Topics the team will examine include the spread of aquatic invasive species in the lake, the abundance of groves of ancient underwater trees and the susceptibility of the lake’s seismic faults to creating earthquakes.

Cassell said the team will also explore Fallen Leaf Lake for a week near Memorial Day.

The project leader said he had initially hoped to use a remotely operated vehicle to explore to the bottom of the lake, but he has not received a full commitment from the vehicle’s manufacturer. Cassell added that he is still hoping to have a remotely operated vehicle in the lake by the end of May.

In addition to the various research projects, the team’s Tahoe dives will serve as training for the ultimate goal of the Undersea Voyager project” to circumnavigate the world’s oceans and assess their overall health.

Cassell made several comparisons between Tahoe and the oceans on Thursday, using the threat of invasive species as one example.

“(Lake Tahoe’s) ecosystem is in flux and ” because that is what’s happening with the oceans, but on a much grander scale ” if we can test everything and find out what we can about this body of water and get the people to back, you know, protecting it, then we have a pretty good chance of doing that with the world oceans.”

Education is key to that effort, Cassell said.

One South Shore resident who will both learn and teach about the project is 14-year-old South Tahoe Middle School student, Sid Loomis.

Loomis is one of three youth ambassadors from around the lake who will learn to drive the submersible and will make presentations about the project to local schools.

“Oh my god, I’m so excited,” Loomis said.

Cassell offered Loomis the ambassadorship after meeting her and her father, Tom, at a presentation he gave about the Undersea Voyager Project, Loomis said.

Loomis is one of many local volunteers whose help has both overwhelmed and humbled Cassell, the project leader said.

Among those providing help is local physician and Glenbrook resident Jeff Wachs, who said he’ll be using his 20-foot Grady-White boat to tow the submersible to some of the team’s dive locations.

Curiosity about what lies below the familiar surface of Lake Tahoe was all it took for the doctor to volunteer, Wachs said.

“I think everybody is pretty excited about (the project),” Wachs said. “I’m interested to see what’s down there.”

Cassell has said he will post results from the Lake Tahoe dives no later than 60 days following their completion.

Results will be posted at the project’s Web site at http://underseavoyager.org/

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