Why is Lake Albert drying up? • Earth.com

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Lake Abert in southern Oregon, which has been shrinking in recent years. The shallow, salty lake is a critical feeding stopover for a large number of migratory birds.

“Every year, tens of thousands of birds flock to Lake Abert as they journey from parts of the Great Basin toward the Pacific flyway, a migration route that extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, to Mexico and South America,” says NASA.

“Under normal circumstances, the lake’s water is too salty for fish. Instead, it supports large quantities of alkali flies and tiny crustaceans called brine shrimp (below), which have long provided a feast for several species of migrating birds.”

However, the lake mostly dried up in 2014, 2015, 2021, and 2022 due to dry weather. The remaining water was often too salty – even for brine shrimp and flies.

A team of researchers led by the University of Maryland and NASA research scientist Dorothy Hall set out to gain a better understanding of why Lake Abert is drying up. The study revealed that fewer days of snow cover and hotter surface temperatures have led to higher levels of evaporation over the lake. 

“Lake Abert is largely fed by snowmelt emanating from the mountains to the west of the lake,” said Hall. “What we’re seeing in Lake Abert is worrying, and it is consistent with what you’d expect from this region because of climate warming.”

“We haven’t seen Lake Abert so low since the Dust Bowl,” said study co-author Ron Larson, a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There has been little or no inflow from the Chewaucan River, at the south end of the lake for the past two years.”

The image was captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 on October 18, 2022.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Editor

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and Earth.com.

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day