Scientists say Crater Lake is clearer than ever
June 27, 1997
By DANI DODGE
Hope to quell fears of pollution
CRATER LAKE The lake world-renowned for its clarity got even clearer this week.
Scientists who monitor Crater Lake discovered Wednesday that they could see 43.3 meters (142 feet) into the deep blue waters. That’s the clearest the lake has been since recording started in 1896, said Mark Buktenica, Crater Lake’s aquatic ecologist.
John Miele, Crater Lake National Park spokesman, said the reading will put to rest rumors that Crater Lake is polluted. Along with an increased recognition of the importance of the lake, fear that the water was clouding prompted the federal government to put millions of dollars into monitoring the lake.
“There was concern in the 1980s that the lake was losing some of its renowned clarity,” Miele said. “Now we can tell you and everyone else that Crater Lake is not losing its clarity.”
In most lakes, such as Lost Creek Reservoir, a scientist can measure clarity to only 5 meters, just over 16 feet. Buktenica said Thursday it was hard to describe the thrill he felt Wednesday at reading the lake’s clarity.
“It was very exciting, but it may be the type of thing exciting to a limnologist (a scientist who studies lakes),” he said. “I probably will never see the water that clear again in my lifetime.”
Buktenica said a number of factors may have contributed to the transparency, and scientists are doing tests now to determine the causes. Some of the factors could be a cyclical decline in the fish population, less plant plankton in the water, and the fact that
the lake is cold for its entire depth of 1,932 feet. (When the top layers of the lake begin to warm, particles are trapped in the water.)
Buktenica said that the fact the lake rose 4 feet this year may also be a factor.
“There are a lot of different cycles going on at the lake at the same time,” Buktenica said. “We don’t understand what cycles have to occur to get these unusually clear periods, but that’s one reason we continue to study this lake.”
Buktenica said that because of the lake’s clarity, it acts as an early warning system for global warming and atmospheric pollution. The lake is part of a global monitoring network, he said.
The world’s next-clearest lake is Lake Baikal in Russia, the deepest lake in the world. Scientists have measured its clarity to 40 meters, but only in the winter when a thick layer of ice covers the entire surface.
Buktenica said even the casual visitor to Crater Lake can detect the difference.
“When you stand on the edge of the lake and look at the bottom, you can notice the crystal clarity,” he said. “You can see further. The color is just more intense.”