News from the Field: Day 12--Mono Lake Day

Today was our Mono Lake day. We started with a guided tour of the Tufa Reserve of Mono Lake with Dave Marquart,a ranger with the California State Tufa Reserve.  Dave gave us a great tour of this extraordinary site with dramatic sculptures of calcium carbonate rising out of Mono Lake. Dave helped us understand the history of the lake, the origin of the tufa towers, and the unusual ecosystem that has developed in one of the West's great saline lakes. We explored lake chemistry, brine shrimp, alkali flies, birds, tufa, hot springs, and the plants and animals surrounding Mono Lake.  A lunch at the Mono Basin Visitor Center was followed by two afternoon meetings exploring the environmental politics surrounding water use in California. First, Chris Plakos from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power showed us several of DWP's water diversion projects, which take Mono Basin water and divert it 250 miles to feed Los Angeles ravenous water needs. We ended the afternoon with Bartshe Miller, and environmental educator with the Mono Lake Committee, a highly successful local environmental group that is credited with saving Mono Lake from a near-certain death from dessication and salination.  We cooled off with a late-afternoon swim in beautiful June Lake.  Another great dinner, followed by an evening lecture by Bob Jellison, a limnologist with SNARL who has worked on Mono Lake chemistry and biology for over 20 years. He told an interesting story about an unexpected mixing of Mono Lake and the need to preserve salt lakes around the world. The talk catalyzed lots of interesting discussion about science, environment, and public policy.

    June 2nd
Dave Marquart of the Mono Lake Tufa Reserve State Park starts the day with a presentation on Mono Lake natural history. 
The group looks on as Dave gives some background on Mono Lake's extraordinary natural history. 
Dave discusses the formation of Mono's famous tufa towers.

A nice view of the tufa towers with the Sierra Nevada in the background. 
Mia performs a pH test on the Mono Lake water as Ryan, Matt, and Renee look on...

And Dave confirms that it is indeed extremely alkaline--with a pH of 10. 
A demonstration on the chemistry of tufa formation shows the precipitation of calcium carbonate (limestone!) when dissolved calcium meets the bicarbonate- rich waters of the alkaline lake. 
A nice panoramic view of southern Mono Lake tufa.
The group collects some samples of the famous Mono Lake brine shrimp as Dave looks on.
Ruben and Kat check out their sample

Liz checks out her mating brine shrimp under the lens.
Liz, Lily, and Matt try out the famous pupa of the alkali fly (called kutsavi)--the mainstay of the Paiute Indians.
Alkali flies are just starting to appear on the lake shore.
Dave talks migratory birds with the assembled crowd--including some of his famous bird calls!
And a flock of California Gulls responds to his call--with Mono Craters in the background..
Brandy sneaks up for a close-up photo of the tufa towers...
A picnic lunch at the Visitor Center affords a panoramic view of Mono Lake.  Some of the group prefer the view of the inside of their eyelids...
Chris Plakos, from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, discusses the DWP perspective on water policy with the group.
As Michael, Debby, Josh, and Mia look on, Chris explains the history of water diversion from the Mono Basin, through an 11-mile long tunnel through the Mono Craters, to the Owens Valley, and on down to Los Angeles 
At the Lee Vining diversion facility, explains the details of the diversion technology.

Back in Lee Vining, we meet with Bartshe Miller, an education specialist with the Mono Lake Committee.
After the lecture, Lily, Renee, Mia, Debby, and Josh enjoy a treat from the famous 'Mono Cone'. 
And, just to make sure we're completely refreshed, the group stops for a chilly swim in glacial June Lake.

Matt and Liz show their sharing spirits!
On the long drive home, our bathing beauties try to decide whether they look better as blondes...
Or brunettes!  What do you think?