UC Davis Today
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.