Crater Lake due for odd visitor
August 18, 2006
By RICHARD L. HILL
Oregon icon – Scientists will use a submarine to explore what fields of green moss mean to the hidden ecosystem
Hidden below the cobalt-blue surface of Crater Lake is a remarkable sight that few have seen: lush fields of green moss. Scientists say the moss likely is a vital player in the lake’s ecosystem, but little is known about it.
Now a research team is plunging into a study of the community of the deep-water moss, Drepanocladus aduncus Warnst.
Scientists will launch a trunk-sized robot submarine into the nation’s deepest lake Monday to examine the colonies of aquatic moss that thrive 65 to 400 feet deep around the rim of the steep-walled caldera and at Wizard Island.
“This is the first stage of trying to understand its ecological importance,” said Mark Buktenica, a biologist with Crater Lake National Park. “It’s obviously significant, because the biomass of the moss probably dwarfs all the other life in the lake put together.”
The project has attracted scientists from the Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University and Southern Oregon University. They say the moss could serve as a long-term indicator of the lake’s health.
Bob Collier, an OSU oceanographer, said the moss poses no problems to the lake’s famed clarity and might “date back to the earliest days of the lake.” Mount Mazama violently erupted and collapsed 7,700 years ago, forming the 1,943-foot-deep lake.
“The moss is very important, with algae, diatoms, worms and other organisms living in it, so it may be an ecosystem in itself,” Collier said. “But we’re just starting to learn about what’s there.”
Earlier this month, researchers aboard the park’s research boat Neuston pulled a camera-toting sled through several moss-covered areas, primarily around Wizard Island, and hauled in samples. It was the first step in the study.
The more maneuverable submersible being used next week — called a Phantom — is equipped with a camera and an arm to grab samples. The 200-pound, remote-controlled vehicle is from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah and Arizona, where it’s been used to retrieve drowning victims.
A submersible will be used in the lake for the first time since a one-person sub explored the lake floor in 1988 and 1989. Buktenica and Collier, along with the OSU oceanographer Jack Dymond, first spotted the moss during those dives.
Dymond, who died in 2003, described it after making the first dive to the lake floor near Wizard Island. “The bottom around 200 feet is completely covered with moss that is on the order of a foot or so in height,” he said in a 1988 interview. “It’s a spectacular scene. It looks like a grassy field.”
Richard L. Hill: 503-221-8238; firstname.lastname@example.org