Crater Lake deep yields mysterious moss
September 15, 2007
By LEE JUILLERAT (Klamath Falls)
Herald and News
CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK - Call it the mystery of the moss.
After all, it sounds like science fiction: Thick patches of moss that grow in
large, dense mats 100 feet below the surface of crystalline Crater Lake.
Mysterious cylindrical holes spiral deep into sections of the mats. Core samples
of the moss ooze pungent odors from unknown millennia of growth and decay.
''It's certainly like no other environment I've seen,'' says Mark Buktenica,
Crater Lake National Park's aquatic ecologist.
Buktenica was a member of a team of scientists that recently spent a week in
the park's research vessel, the Neuston, collecting core samples from what's
known as Deep Moss.
Earlier this summer, he and Scott Girdner, the park's fisheries biologist,
made 120-foot-deep scuba dives in a moss-laden region around Wizard Island to
verify maps of moss layers made by U.S. Geological Survey cameras last summer.
Layers of living 3-to-6-foot deep moss lay atop dead moss that dips another
20 feet between depths of 100 and 460 feet, mostly on submerged volcanic
platforms and underwater fumaroles in a crescent shape around the island.
''It's more than scientific curiosity,'' Girdner said.
Researchers hope their efforts will answer a lot of questions about Crater
Lake's ecosystem as well as the possible effects of global warming. Along with
determining the distribution of the moss, they want to determine its age.
''We don't have any good guesses on how old it is or how long it took to
form. The one thing we do know is it's younger than 7,700 years,'' Girdner said,
referring to the age of the lake, which was created by the eruption of
prehistoric Mount Mazama that many years ago.
The mystery of the moss has intrigued lake researchers since 1988, when ROVs,
or remotely operated vehicles, discovered the beds. Other dives, including one
Buktenica took in a tiny submarine to the lake bottom, have fed the desire to
Scientists have wondered if the moss has something to do with the clarity of
the water of Crater Lake.
''The clarity of the lake is a big interest,'' oceanographer Robert ''Bob''
Collier of Oregon State University said, referring to Crater Lake's reputation
as the nation's clearest lake. ''We hadn't really come to grips with the
importance of the moss. For years we've been promising each other we'd
investigate it. Once we convinced ourselves ... how extensive it is, the next
step was to see how deep it was and core it.''
Buktenica said because Crater Lake is so cold and well oxygenated, the moss'
decomposition process is very slow.
''The more we find the more I'm convinced these moss beds are really, really
old,'' Collier said.
''I think they could be as old as the lake.''
Assisting with the recent core collection work in Fumarole Bay off Wizard
Island was Amy Myrbo of the University of Minnesota.
Myrbo hopes to study some of the core samples, which will be sent to various
labs. Carbon 14 dating will be used on pine pollens from those cores to
determine ages of the living and dead moss.
''Hopefully by next spring, we'll know something,'' Myrbo said.
''It's certainly exciting,'' Buktenica said. ''There are not a lot of things
you can study these days that you know nothing about.''
''Nothing we've found has illuminated the answers. It has only illuminated