G.B. Crawford (Humboldt State University), with contributions
from R.W. Collier (Oregon State University), G. Larson (USGS-NBS, Corvallis,
Oregon), and a cast of several others
A Brief Description of the Lake
Crater Lake is a closed-basin caldera lake set in the Cascade
Mountains of south-central Oregon.
1. Crater lake winter scene
The lake lies within the boundary of Crater Lake National Park
and is managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Formed by the eruption of Mt.
Mazama roughly 7000 years ago, this lake is the deepest in the United States
(589 m) and the 7th deepest in the world. Surface of the lake is
about 53 km2; water volume is roughly 17 km3.
Fig. 2. Bathymetric map.
The lake is surrounded by steep caldera walls and occupies
about 80% of its own drainage basin.
Crater Lake meteorological station, with 200-300 m high
caldera walls in the background
Most water enters the lake by direct deposition of snow and
leaves by evaporation and seepage. The lake has extremely low nutrient inputs
and organic production. As a consequence, it is also one of the clearest lakes
in the world. (Secchi disk readings are typically greater than 30 m; 1% light
depth is 90-100 m). Primary production in the lake is limited by nitrogen, with
a nutricline present below 250 m. Maximum chlorophyll concentrations occur at
100-120m, while maximum primary production occurs between 40 and 80m.
Most phytoplankton and zooplankton species live between 80 and
200 m. Although there are no truly indigenous fish here, the lake was stocked
annually with Kokanee salmon and brown trout from the late 1800's to the
mid-1940's. The fish have since become an integral part of the lake's ecosystem.
Research Efforts - Physical Limnology
Fig. 5. Retrieving data and samples from the mooring.
In situ observations of meteorological conditions on the lake
surface and caldera rim as well as full water column temperature recorders have
been established, maintained, and integrated into the ongoing Park research and
monitoring program in cooperation with Park resource management. These datasets
provide the critical input to models of lake physics and water level. These
observations are supported by a series of limnological measurements that
directly evaluate the vertical mixing and deep lake respiration rates. These
rates have been coupled to a simple model of organic matter production, particle
settling, and nutrient regeneration that demonstrate significant complexity in
the way lake physics might control biological production.
Fig. 6. View across lake from caldera rim.
The in situ thermistor observations have allowed us to
demonstrate dramatic vertical mixing 'events' in the Lake which ventilate the
bottom of the deepest basins and force nitrate up towards the euphotic zone.
Initial interpretation of these data suggested the possibility of thermobaric
instabilities such as operate within Lake Baikal. Our models have demonstrated
that these vertical mixing events could not be one-dimensional; a 3 dimensional
numerical model is under investigation. Preliminary results show the 3-d model
is able to reproduce the kinds of deep water exchanges we have observed. The
parameterization of lake surface heat and water fluxes have been directly tested
by our ability to integrate observed temperature and salinity changes from the
thermistor and CTDT datasets. These validate the forcing we have developed for
the lake and tell us a great deal about how mixing occurs within the upper 200
meters of the water column.
Results from a regional climate model (S. Hostetler, USGS)
have been obtained for a location close to Crater Lake. These provide surface
forcing conditions (winds, heat and hydrologic fluxes) for application to the
lake circulation and hydrologic models. Two multi-year data sets have been
selected, one corresponding to contemporary climatic conditions and the other to
a 2XCO2 scenario. The data are presently being validated against actual
observations in order to correct for discrepancies in location between the
regional climate model and Crater Lake.
Motivation for Study
Fig. 4. Winter photo of the caldera rim meteorological
Crater Lake has been of interest to scientists for the better
part of a century. In 1982, however, Congress authorized a long-term,
multi-disciplinary study of the lake in order to assess the water quality of the
lake (and, in particular, to examine whether or not there was systematic
degradation of water clarity). In the mid-1980's, another furor arose over
possible impacts of geothermal energy exploitation just outside the park
boundary. Over the past decade or so, the focus has shifted to evaluation of the
impact of climate variability and climate change on the lake. Among the goals of
these programs, have been the development of: (a) an understanding of lake
components and processes; (b) a ongoing observational program for monitoring
changes; (c) models for predicting the potential impacts of future climate
change on the lake.
Early studies of the lake were focused on biological
processes and indicators. By the early 1990's, however, it became clear that the
relationships between climate and the lake ecosystem were dynamic and complex.
Climate plays an important role in the performance of the lake by affecting
temperature, mixing and transport, underwater light regime, water volume,
nutrient inputs, and fish habitat. In order to better assess and quantify the
connections between climate and the ecosystem, meteorological stations were set
up on the lake and up on the caldera rim (Fig. 3 and 4) in 1992-93.
In addition, a long-term mooring, complete with an array of thermistors (to measure the lake temperature structure year-round, providing
information about lake mixing dynamics) and sediment traps, was also established
next to the lake met station.