Origins and scale-dependence of temporal variability in the transparency of Lake Tahoe, California┬ľNevada

Jassby, Alan D., Charles R. Goldman, John E. Reuter, Robert C. Richards

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(2), 1999, 282-294 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.2.0282

ABSTRACT: Secchi depth has been measured in Lake Tahoe an average of every 12 d since July 1967. Because of the unusual clarity of the lake, Secchi depth measurement is responsive to small changes in light-attenuating particles, and the record exhibits strong variability at the seasonal, interannual, and decadal scales. Using recently developed methods of applied time-series analysis, the mechanisms of change were delineated at each scale. The seasonal pattern is a bimodal one, with two minima at approximately June and December. The June minimum is due mostly to cumulative discharge of suspended sediments following melting of the snowpack. The December minimum is probably a result of mixed-layer deepening as the thermocline passes through layers of phytoplankton and other light-attenuating particles that reach a maximum below the summer mixed layer. The interannual scale exhibits two modes of variability, one during the weakly stratified autumn-winter period and the other during the more stratified spring- summer period. The first mode is a result of variable depth of mixing in this unusually deep lake, while the second results from year-to-year changes in spring runoff. A decadal trend also exists (~0.25 m yr-1), resulting from accumulation of materials in the water column. It is not yet understood, however, how much of this change is due to phytoplankton or recent phytoplankton-derived materials and how much is due to other materials such as mineral suspensoids. Based on the available measurements and physical considerations, both categories may play a significant role.

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