Located in an area north of Lake Tahoe, the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center focuses on research to help understand Lake Tahoe’s physical, chemical and biological processes and how they interact. Not only has it studied the ecosystem of the lake, it also monitors conditions throughout the Tahoe Basin to examine the effects of climate change, wildfires, invasive species and smoke—and how they impact the health of the lake.
Researchers have roots going back to 1873 when physicist John LeConte initiated the first scientific measurements in Lake Tahoe, including the first clarity measurement at 108 feet.
In 1959, Dr. Charles Goldman started research for UC Davis at the lake and by 1968, Goldman formed the Tahoe Research Group to begin regular monitoring. A measurement of 98 feet of clarity was documented that year for the first annual State of the Lake Report.
In 2004, UC Davis launched the Tahoe Environmental Research Center to succeed the TRG and named Dr. Geoffrey Schladow as the founding director. The TERC has been under his leadership ever since.
“Before there was more of an emphasis on the biological and the chemical processes in the lake and that was the area of expertise of people from back then,” says Schladow about the TERC program. “What I’ve tried to do is obviously continue that, but to bring in some of these more physical measurements such as currents and temperatures and how they interact with these new processes of climate change, intense wildfire and invasive species.”
Schladow says since taking the director position, he’s also tried to bring a more holistic approach to the program. He adds that it’s important to understand the health of the surrounding forests in order to determine the amounts of nutrients and water that flow into the lake. He explains that the Tahoe Basin is all one system: Alter a single part of it and an impact can be measured somewhere else.
At the time of this interview, Schladow was on his way to France for a conference at Lake Geneva to present the work the TERC is doing with underwater robots and its near-shore monitoring stations.
Lake Geneva is one of the earliest studied lakes. In fact, it was where the first discussion of European alpine lakes and Lake Tahoe took place 150 years ago between LeConte and François-Alphonse Forel, a Swiss scientist who pioneered this field of research.
Not only does the TERC do all kinds of environmental and scientific work, it also hosts events, lectures, exhibits and classes that take place at the TERC’s Tahoe Science Center located in Incline Village.
The Science Center’s exhibits include a 3D theater that shows a film called “Lake Tahoe In Depth.” There is also an augmented reality sandbox exhibit called “Shaping Watersheds” and a mockup of the research vessel where visitors can learn more about the different kinds of research scientists do on the water.
The center started with a few educational programs, minimal field trips and some evening lectures. But since opening in 2006, it has slowly expanded, adding different exhibits and new features. It continues to see visitor growth year over year.
Currently, the Science Center is trying to raise $150,000 to upgrade the equipment and content for the video exhibits. If it can secure additional funding, there are plans to add an underwater Lake Tahoe exhibit where visitors would interact with virtual reality technology.
Want to get involved? For more information or to volunteer, donate or visit the Science Center, visit terc.ucdavis.edu or go in person at 291 Country Club Drive, Incline Village, NV