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Study of closed-basin lakes important to global climate change research



DRI closed-basin lake studiesThe compressed timeline of environmental processes in closed-basin lake watersheds is an indicator of how other aquatic ecosystems may decline, especially with the effects of climate change being observed around the globe.

Watersheds that end at a landlocked lake with no water outlet have been studied around the world, and especially in the Great Basin region of Nevada. For the first time, researchers will be coming together to share their work on these terminus or closed-basin lakes in a conference dedicated to preserving these ecosystems.

More than 30 scientists, including world-renowned geochemist Wally Broecker, who first coined the term global-warming, will present the latest research from several continents on these important water systems at the “International Symposium on Terminus Lakes: Preserving endangered lakes through research” Oct. 26-29. The symposium, co-hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno and DRI, will be held at the Joe Crowley Student Union on the University campus.

“These unique terminus lakes, and their associated watershed ecosystems, are in extreme peril,” said Jim Thomas, symposium co-host, co-chair for the Walker Basin Project Study Group and director of DRI’s Center for Watersheds and Environmental Sustainability. “The lakes may soon dry up completely or become shallow saline water bodies.”

Thomas said as the planet warms, stream flows will likely decrease and lakes in arid environments will face further stress caused by reduced water resources as evaporation rates, natural vegetation and crop water use increases.

Not all terminus lakes are under stress. However, the watershed model for the Walker Basin Project, of which results of several of the 10 research projects completed there will be presented at the symposium, provides a blueprint for a sound scientific approach to understanding the hydrology of terminus-lake basins, no matter their location or climate. The information can be used by water-use planners and irrigation districts to plan for future water availability, Thomas said.

World-renowned geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will deliver the keynote address on the importance of terminus-lakes research at the symposium. Broecker said terminus, or closed-basin, lakes are critical to global climate change research due to their ability to predict the future of water availability worldwide.

“The best indicator of how precipitation has changed is these lakes because they have no outlet,” he said. Typically located in arid or semi-arid regions, terminus lakes make up about 50 percent of the world’s lakes.

Berry Lyons, an internationally recognized geochemist from the Byrd Polar Research Center and professor at The Ohio State University, has studied details of climate change in closed-basin systems on several continents and will also speak at the symposium about his research.

His work focuses on the geochemical evolution of closed-basin water and ecological systems, particularly how climate changes affect Antarctic polar desert ecosystems. His research on semi-arid closed-basin lakes in Australia, Antarctica and the Great Basin has yielded clear details of climate change during the past few thousand years.

The symposium will conclude with a day-long tour of Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River (Tahoe’s only outlet) and its terminus Pyramid Lake, a desert fishery that is the largest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan that covered much of northwestern Nevada at the end of the last ice age.

For more information on the symposium please visit www.nevada.edu/symposium.

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