Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. It currently attracts almost 3 million visitors a year. After the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, it became a major tourist attraction, which resulted in increased development and an influx of motorized watercraft to the lake. Damage to the lake soon became noticeable with a reduction in lake clarity. This catalyzed a movement to use science and regional planning to reduce human impacts on the lake.
It’s like something out of a science-fiction movie: in an empty field in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of feet of wire hum with barely audible electricity. A group of scientists take a peek under the Earth’s surface, all without disturbing a speck of soil; what is revealed to them will forever change their understanding of this part of the planet. On a 1950s silver screen, mad-scientists in impeccable lab coats would have discovered an underground colony or remnants of a long-lost civilization. In the 21st century, actual real-life scientists in dusty clothes uncover the geological secrets stored underground, secrets that shape their knowledge of an area’s geological history and groundwater resources.
On a cold, rainy morning in late January, a group of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey's California Water Science Center gather on a foggy levee road just east of the City of Woodland. Shivering as the wind howls around them, the crew pulls on thick yellow raincoats, rubber waders, and life vests. They're preparing to collect water-quality and sediment samples from the murky, brown water below – an area known as the Cache Creek Settling Basin. The scientists will test the samples for a range of water-quality constituents, but their focus is set on something specific to this site: mercury.
May marks the annual observance of American Wetlands Month, a month dedicated to celebrating one of nature’s most productive ecosystems. Here in California, the U.S. Geological Survey – in cooperation with many other local, state, and federal agencies – studies wetlands, looking to better understand how wetlands work, and the importance of wetlands to both humans, and the plants and animals that rely on healthy wetlands to survive.
San Joaquin Valley: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the U.S. Geological Survey. Its weeklong mission: to explore strange new locations, to seek out abandoned scientific technologies, to boldly go where no scientist has gone before (at least in a few decades).