UC Davis Today

  • Beach at Lake Tahoe with people exercising

    Challenges like a reduced snowpack, climate change and drought persist at Lake Tahoe. Luckily, so does its beauty.

  • Bill Clinton looking through an instrument with Al Gore, left, and Charles Goldman, right,  looking on

    President Bill Clinton convened the first Tahoe Summit in 1997. He’s seen here with Al Gore and Charles Goldman aboard the research vessel John LeConte. (Jay Mather/Sacramento Bee courtesy photo)

  • Row of seated people with woman speaking at podium in center

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein opened the 2014 summit, which brought together California and Nevada elected officials to renew their commitment to restoring Lake Tahoe.

  • Rows of chairs on a lawn with pine trees in the back ground and with some people sitting in them

    Roughly 700 Tahoe residents and agency, academic, and nonprofit stakeholders attended the 18th annual Tahoe Summit in South Lake Tahoe.

  • Man and woman walking together under big pine trees

    Geoff Schladow walks with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Director Joanne Marchetta as the summit is about to begin.

  • Man and woman standing up, woman speaking from podium

    Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid speak at the Tahoe Summit. UC Davis’ annual State of the Lake report provides the scientific foundation for political efforts to restore the lake.

  • Man speaking from podium

    Geoff Schladow said several challenges face Lake Tahoe — from climate change and drought to wildfires and invasive species. The trick is learning how they all interact.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown speaking at the podium

    California Gov. Jerry Brown said it’s going to take science and learning to live with nature to truly preserve Lake Tahoe.

  • Diver in a clear lake holding a clam

    UC Davis research diver Brant Allan holds Asian clams while installing rubber barriers to control their spread in 2012. (Joe Proudman/UC Davis photo)

  • The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center shares the lessons of Lake Tahoe, pictured, with resource managers struggling with similar challenges at lakes worldwide.

True-blue science to save Lake Tahoe

By Kat Kerlin

When Geoff Schladow was a child, Booker T. and the M.G.’s were on the radio playing “Green Onions,” and the waters of Lake Tahoe were intensely, absurdly blue. You could drop a white disc into the water and watch it, with your naked eye, sink more than 100 feet below the surface.  

Fast forward to August 2014. Schladow, now director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at UC Davis, was watching Booker T. play to a crowd at Sand Harbor on Tahoe’s east shore. The music — and the scientist that he is — led Schladow to think about the changes the lake has seen in the years since 1962 when “Green Onions” started walking its haunting bass line for the first time.

A lot has happened in that time: Development has encroached around the lake. Species like milfoil, Mysis shrimp and Asian clams have invaded its shoreline and waters.  Summers have gotten hotter and longer. The snowpack has shrunk. Wildfires have raged.  And lake clarity has decreased from more than 100 feet in the 1960s to an average of 70 feet today.

One thing that’s been consistent for all of that time is UC Davis’ close eye on Lake Tahoe. University of California Professor John LeConte took the first scientific measurements in Lake Tahoe in 1868 — just a few years before Mark Twain would famously describe the lake as “surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.”

Then in 1958, UC Davis limnologist Charles Goldman began conducting research at Lake Tahoe, pioneering more than 50 years of consistent data on the lake environment — a legacy Schladow and TERC scientists continue today, often in partnership with agencies and researchers across the region.

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