Smoke & Water
Wildfire smoke can seriously impact humans' health, but scientists have discovered that it can also affect the health of ecosystems. On the Living With Fire Podcast, Professor Sudeep Chandra, director of the Global Water Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, talks about how scientists have been working to understand these impacts on Lake Tahoe's aquatic ecosystem.
Stakeholders in the Tahoe Basin have been working for decades to “Keep Tahoe Blue,” and have been trying to control algae growth in the lake. Chandra explains that one direct effect wildfire smoke can potentially have on the lake is stimulating algae growth.
"So just like Miracle-Gro has a nice combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to grow our garden plants, it turns out smoke has a ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus. Sometimes it's optimal, and sometimes it's not," explains Chandra.
In addition to providing nutrients for fertilizing algae, Chandra explains that smoke can also affect the amount of light hitting the lake, potentially reducing the amount of ultraviolet light, which kills algae cells.
With wildfires occurring more frequently and becoming more intense, Assistant Professor Christina Restaino, director of the Living With Fire program, explained what it's like for scientists working in fire right now.
"We're entering this new era of no analog experiences, where these ecosystems are experiencing this smoke every single year or fire every single year. We don't have an analog from the past to understand that. So yeah, it's exciting, and it's really unknown."
To learn more, check out the resources below:
- Caldor Fire impact on Lake Tahoe’s clarity, ecology studied amidst ongoing wildfire season
- Global Water Center
- Living With Fire