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AAAS Cites Lake Tahoe as Symbol of Need to Combat Climate Change

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe shows how climate change is altering ecosystems, habitats, and the communities that depend upon them, said AAAS CEO Rush Holt. | Maislam/AdobeStock

The fastest rise ever recorded in the average water temperature of Lake Tahoe raises fresh concerns about the potential environmental, economic and health impacts of climate change, wrote AAAS CEO Rush Holt in a letter to a bipartisan group of seven Nevada and California members of Congress. 

Holt, who also serves as executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said scientists are invaluable resources, and can assist policymakers in devising sustainable solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the impact of climate change at the regional level without damaging the economy or the environment.

A 2016 annual report on the deteriorating health of nation’s second deepest lake that spreads 191 square miles along the Nevada California border is emblematic of how climate change is altering ecosystems, habitats, and the communities that depend upon them, said Holt.

“Lake Tahoe, one of the country’s greatest natural treasures, also illustrates the serious economic consequences that loom if we fail to address climate change,” wrote Holt, referring to the Lake Tahoe study conducted annually by the University of California, Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

The report found the average surface temperature of Lake Tahoe has climbed faster over the last four years than at any other recorded time – a pace researchers put at 15 times faster than the lake’s long-term warming trend. The report was based on data collected in 2015.

Snow accounted for the least amount of precipitation than any time on record, and the average air temperature around the lake fell below freezing on only 24 days, the least number of days on record, the report said. 

Another critical indicator was no less concerning: The intermingling of the lake’s water, a mechanism known as “deep mixing” that distributes oxygen throughout the lake and moves nitrogen up from the lake’s maximum 1,625-foot depth, also was the lowest on record, the report found.

“Much has been written in the scientific literature about the impact of climate change and about its public health consequences as well. Both are deadly serious,” wrote Holt. For example, Holt said, a 2014 study found that Lake Tahoe area ski resorts contribute more than half a billion dollars to the area’s economy.

AAAS and 30 other leading, nonpartisan scientific organizations authored a joint letter in June reaffirming scientific observations that climate change is happening and that “rigorous scientific research” concludes that greenhouse gas emissions result from human activities. The letter called for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to blunt resulting damage to the global economy, natural resources, and human health.

[Associated image: Maislam/AdobeStock]