NEAR AND DEAR
July 18, 2013
Lake Tahoe's shallows will now receive similar scientific attention to the lake's clear depths.
Scientists from the Desert Research Institute recently launched the organization's research boat, which will help them collect data about Tahoe's near-shore environments.
"This will give us an idea of what areas of the lake are threatened, what are the hot spots," DRI staff scientist Brian Fitzgerald said as he piloted the craft near Sand Harbor last Thursday.
With a recent infusion of funding, researchers will be able to regularly take the boat out for up to three years. The jet-powered vessel, which can travel in shallower water than a traditionally propelled watercraft, is equipped to collect continuous data as it moves along the lake's shore.
“This will give us an idea of what areas of the lake are threatened, what are the hot spots.”
Desert Research Institute
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"Historically, research has been happening in the middle of the lake," said Angela Stevens, a research assistant with DRI and graduate student at University and Nevada, Reno. "We would like to characterize the water quality, specifically the water clarity, near shore."
Information on the water's turbidity, translucidity and chlorophyll content are registered on an onboard computer every two seconds while the boat is in operation. All of these are optical properties of the water, which determine clarity.
"Clarity is one major component of water quality," Fitzgerald said. "It's an important part of what's missing from the other research that's been going on."
Though DRI has been using the boat since 2001, it has been sporadic. Without continuous data, it's hard to understand changes in water quality, Fitzgerald said.
"If we can go out regularly, we can assess how the water clarity changes over time," Stevens said. "We could have that data and we could begin to build a continuous data set."
The relation of near-shore water quality to the lake's overall clarity is little understood. But scientists have established that the majority of clarity-reducing pollutants that enter Lake Tahoe pass through this zone.
"The near shore is where it happens," Fitzgerald said. "It's where the interactions are, where the sediment is coming in."
The Caesers Foundation awarded Stevens a nearly $50,000 fellowship in December to fund the research. DRI will match the amount. The money is expected to fund monthly excursions on the boat for up to three years.
"Environmental stewardship is key to making each of our communities healthier places to live," said Janet Beronio, chair of Caesars Foundation, in a statement. "We are proud to support Angela, the Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada, Reno in their important research efforts to safeguard the Lake Tahoe Basin."
The research could have major impacts on thresholds for pollutants entering the lake, Fitzgerald said. He hopes to identify some of the trouble areas that are contributing to the clarity's degradation.
Stevens agreed, adding that ultimately that's what it's about — the quality and clarity of water in Lake Tahoe.
"That's why people come here, because it's so clear," Stevens said. "And we want to keep it that way."
The Desert Research Institute, the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education — strives to be the world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people's lives throughout Nevada and the world. Learn more at http://www.dri.edu.