Change – a Natural Lake Process

Earlier this summer, the world lost a lake.  A lava flow from Mount Kilauea in Hawaii entered the lake and boiled it away in about 5 hours.  In Pakistan, a month later, a new lake formed temporarily after a portions of a glacier sheared off and fell into a large river.   Such large scale geological processes are not likely to occur  in Vermont – no volcanoes or glaciers here.  Large significant changes to our lakes are mostly connected to weather events – such as the high spring water levels on Lake Champlain and rainfall associated with Tropical Storm Irene – and fortunately don’t occur very often.

Because large scale events like these are rare, we tend to think that our lakes don’t change much.   Yet the world around us, lakes included, changes constantly in quiet subtle ways.  Some changes are seasonal – the annual rise and fall of lake water level, the growth and decay of aquatic plant life.  Others reflect the slow change that occurs across the landscape – the gradual change of a sapling into a tree near the lake and the slow meanders of small streams flowing across the shore.  Some are temporary, some are permanent but all lakes are affected.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network and several partners have begun collecting photos to document long and short term change in the environment.  Four times each year during Field Photo Weekends, volunteers take a photo of the same location from the same perspective.  Over time, these images can provide information on seasonal variation, impacts of extreme weather, and changes in land use.  As I was enjoying some of these photos, it occurred to me that FOVLAP members may have a wealth of information about lakes in family photo albums.

Many of us have been returning to the same lake for many years.  If you have a favorite spot on the shore or a location where you take the family snapshot each summer, you may have a little window capturing change on your lake.  My family photos, for example, capture annual change in water level on our Lake Michigan beach – some years our photos show us scrunched up against shoreland shrubs on a foot or 2 of sandy beach; in others the beach extends 10 or more feet and we can stretch out comfortably.  The change from year to year in a lake this size is simply amazing.

So, if you are trying to remember the last time water levels were this high (or low), your family photo album might just be the place to go.

Attached algae along the shoreline of Lake Champlain mark the annual change in water level (A. Shambaugh)