Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mono Lake

We left Shasta Trinity National Forest and headed back south. Under the advice of both friends and friendly strangers, we stopped by Mono Lake on our way to Utah. We weren't really sure what to expect but it kept being mentioned so we figured why not stop through.

The lake is located just to the east of Yosemite National Park, and serves as a major stop for migratory birds. Following our trend, we had gotten the there a few weeks before the huge influx of birds but there were still a few lingering out on the dry landscape.

At one time, this lake was deep and expansive, like an paradise within a desert oasis. The lake is fed by six mountain streams from the surrounding Sierras and the lake itself has no outlet. In the 1940’s government officials thought it would be a brilliant idea to divert the water from these mountain streams to the city of Los Angeles. Unfortunately too much water was diverted. The over consumption coupled with drought effects resulted in more water leaving the system faster then it could be replenished. Evaporation soon exceeded inflow and the surface level of Mono Lake fell rapidly.

As the water levels dropped, huge limestone like towers within the lake, which are refered to as tufa's, became exposed. Tufa's were created from the calcium rich springs they once resided in. The calcium in the spring water would flow upward from the lake bottom and join to the carbonate in the lake water. Together these two things formed calcium carbonate, a type of limestone. These giant limestone towers now stand as a visible reminder to how how high the lake use to be.

The drop in the water levels also resulted in the salinity of the water doubling. According to the Mono Lake Committee, the water is extremely alkaline, with a pH of 10, and almost three times as salty as the ocean. At 6,392 feet above sea level it will be slightly more than twice as salty as the ocean. The salinity of the lake is approximately 81 g/l. In essence this means that the water feels extremely slimy to touch things float more easily.

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