The word "unique" is slippery. If
defined as meaning "one of a kind," we must answer the question, "One of
what kind?" Although "unique" is commonly used in our language, it can
become trite the more we consider what it is describing. After all,
isn't everything in some way unique?
Many people ask "Are there any other
lakes in the world like Crater Lake?" The answer usually surprises them.
It often disappoints as well. Typically, I answer "Plenty. "
Considering that Crater Lake was formed
by a volcanic collapse, one wouldn't expect this answer. Most believe
that any big hole inside a volcano has resulted from an enormous blast.
Few have ever heard of a volcano collapsing.
Volcanoes sometimes collapse. The
results of such events are calderas, which are found in volcanic regions
throughout the world. It is also fairly common for calderas to fill with
water and form lakes. Examples are found in Japan, Greece, Peru, Sudan,
New Zealand, and many other countries around the globe. Here in the
western United States, one of our best known examples is Yellowstone
Lake, which partially resides in the Yellowstone Caldera--a depression
over 25 miles across.
Closer to Crater Lake, in the Cascade
Range, there are also many caldera lakes. To the south of the park is
the Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area. Many of the lakes found there
resulted from a large caldera collapse followed by later glacial
activity. The glacial sculpting tells us that the Mountain Lakes caldera
is easily older than 10,000 years, which marked the terminus of the last
Not far to the north of Crater Lake, we
can find Paulina and East Lake at Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
These two lakes are found within the Newberry caldera which collapsed
about 500,000 years ago. (This was about the same time that Mount
Mazama, Crater Lake's volcano, began to form). What's more, Newberry
shows evidence that it has collapsed several times, leaving a series of
Perhaps our most intriguing caldera
lake can be found in another national park far from Crater Lake. Katmai
National Park in Alaska is the home to Katmai Peak, which had a huge
caldera-forming eruption in 1912. This same eruption formed the famed
Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The destroyed summit of Katmai Peak is
now a depression of roughly one-half the diameter of Oregon's Crater
Lake. Since the collapse, Katmai's caldera has been slowly filling with
water. Naturally, the developing body of water has been aptly named
Alaska has another caldera that is even
more fascinating, though it is mostly "dry bottomed. " An eruption 3,500
years ago created Aniakchak, a six mile wide, 2500 foot deep caldera
that is remarkably similar to Crater Lake in size and age. The caldera
has many post-collapse volcanic features, including a peak very similar
to Crater Lake's Wizard Island. In addition, study reveals that many of
the post-collapse eruptions actually occurred underwater. This tells us
that Aniakchak once had a deep caldera lake that would have been
remarkably like Crater Lake-complete with its own Wizard Island! The
lake is gone today, however, having left behind a 1,500 foot cut where
the lake breeched the side and eroded away the caldera wall.
Currently, the Aniakchak caldera
contains a minute lake known as Surprise Lake, a two and one-half mile
long remnant of Crater Lake's former rival. Along the shoreline of this
lake are many small springs--evidence that all is not quiet at Aniakchak.
These springs may have once been active below the formerly larger lake,
much like the springs currently found in the depths of Crater Lake.
So is there anything "unique" about
Oregon's Crater Lake? Is the world simply rife with Crater lakes?
Let us consider the lake's non-geologic
characteristics There are some that set Crater Lake apart from other
lakes. Intensive research conducted over the past ten years revealed
that Crater Lake has unsurpassed water clarity, record depths for
aquatic species, and some organisms found nowhere else in the world.
Certainly these aspects make Crater Lake unique, don't they?
To a degree. Once again we run into
problems with the concept of "unique". Taking the water clarity as an
example, it is true that Crater Lake holds the world record for clarity.
But it is important to recognize that the clarity of Crater Lake, like
that of all lakes, fluctuates.
John Salinas is a researcher whose work
was instrumental in initiating the congressionally mandated, ten year
research program at Crater Lake. At Oregon's second deepest lake, Waldo
Lake, Salinas recently obtained readings that indicated extremely high
clarity, easily rivaling Crater Lake's average clarity. Salinas took
these readings at a time when Crater Lake's clarity cycle was at a
low--well below average. Therefore, on that given day, Waldo may have
been the clearest lake in the world!
I personally dislike the word "unique",
as it seems to be an abysmally nebulous term. Truly, there is only one
Mount Mazama, and within it is the world renowned Crater Lake. But in
nature all things, including all lakes, are unique.