Thursday, December 16, 2010

From the Photo Album: Mono Lake

Have NASA researchers discovered a new, arsenic-based life form in California's Mono Lake? The agency's recent announcement that findings from this desert lake suggest there is more to life than was thought has spurred a host of scientific criticism. Whatever the truth, the fact remains that Mono Lake would be the perfect place to find absolutes and expectations overturned.

Looking westward toward the Sierra Nevada, with tufa and birds in the distance

Just how interesting can a desert lake be? Well, this one is very interesting indeed, and beautiful as well. It's geologically active, with a geothermally active island (Paoha) that arose only 350 years ago, another island (Negit) formed from an intriguing cinder cone, and an active fault line running along its western side near the base of the Sierra Nevada. In certain areas on its shore rise towers of tufa, "lake-sculpted" calcium carbonate, that are wondrously strange and get the imagination rolling. And Mono is 2 to 3 times more saline than the ocean, and 80 times more alkaline.

A magical-looking hot pool with beautiful greenery despite the cold
Mono also supports an intricate and unusual life cycle that includes algae, brine shrimp, brine flies, and birds, and except for various microbes, supports no life other than those. It majestically mirrors the sky from its beauty spot not too far from the Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park and an easy drive from Nevada's White Mountains and its forest of bristlecones pines—among the oldest living things on earth. Closer by are Mono Craters, the youngest mountain chain in North America, and Panum Crater, with its plug of shiny obsidian. An ancient lake, Mono is no younger than 760,000 years old, and seems the genuine caretaker of a lost world.

Looking across the lake at a low-lying cloud trying to deposit rain
I fell in love with Mono Lake in the late '80s, and luckily this special place is currently protected after decades of stream diversions for LA's water supply came close to destroying it. The people who worked to save the lake, known as the Mono Lake Committee, are not just national heroes, but global ones. This lake, one of the oldest in the world, can be counted among the greatest treasures on earth. And although the tufa is pretty, it does belong under water, not above it, and was a sign of the lake's decay due to those diversions. Someday perhaps the lake will reclaim its "bones," but for now they remind us that our resources are truly precious, and that what is ancient can revolutionize our thinking and make us wonder about the constituents of life itself.

Please note: All photos are from the late 1980s.

I hope you have enjoyed this week's wee installment of "From the Photo Album." Good luck with your holiday shopping! Season's greetings from PrettyGonzo!

1 comment:

Anna Garner said...

Mary, I did not even know you had a blog or I would have followed you long ago! This is a very special treasure of information that I am very happy to know. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and your sentiments about the lake with us.