Floating sculpture coming to Lake Tahoe to bring awareness to climate change impacts

A rendering of the floating sculpture depicting the water temperature and depth of the mixing and periphyton. (Courtesy: Tahoe Public Art)

It’s no secret: Lake Tahoe, one of the purest large lakes in the world, is known for its crystal clear waters.

According to researchers at UC Davis, however, the lake’s clarity is dipping.

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center on Thursday reported the average annual clarity level of Lake Tahoe for 2016 was 69.2 feet, which is a 3.9-foot decrease from 2015.

The drop in clarity, researchers determined, is due to climate change.

This is one of the many reasons why Mia Hanak, executive director of Tahoe Public Art, has spearheaded a project to promote environmental preservation around Lake Tahoe.

Hanak’s conception is a 50-by-25-foot three-dimensional sculpture that will be docked off two Tahoe beaches for a total of 20 days in August. More than a floating sculpture, the art exhibit responds to the surrounding environment –- water, sunlight, air –- and digitally depicts data-driven storytelling on climate change impacts and solutions available to people.

The temporary art installation is titled LAKA LELUP, a Washoe term meaning “coming together for a common purpose,” says Hanak, adding that the Washoe Tribe helped her name the sculpture and are in support of the project.

“We wanted to create something that could almost be considered a public intervention,” Hanak says. “What you can do individually and as a community to lessen our overall carbon footprint and carbon emissions that’s impacting the lake.”

All told, the decline in Lake Tahoe’s clarity in 2016 marks the second year in a row in which the effects of climate change have impacted clarity, according to UC Davis.

What's more, the lake's clarity last summer (June through September 2016) dropped to 56.4 feet -- a 16.7-foot decline over the previous year.

Why the drastic dip? According to UC Davis, the lake’s decrease in clarity stemmed from a large growth of algae, which blooms as the surface of the lake warms.

It comes as no surprise that in 2016 Lake Tahoe's temperature was at record-high levels, causing the lake to stratify -- or separate into layers -- at close to the earliest time ever.

Researchers say 50 years’ worth of data collected at Lake Tahoe has shown that the lake temperature has increased due to the continuing effects of climate change.

“The carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions is directly tied to the slowing of the mixing of the layers of the lake,” Hanak says. “That’s why we’re having this urgent call to action (with this project)."

For those opposed to the exhibit, Hanak says, the sculpture is environmentally sustainable. Each piece of the installation is reusable and recycle, and the exhibit will be placed on the barge that is used for the lake’s Fourth of July fireworks. Hanak says Tahoe Public Art hopes people will be able to paddleboard or kayak out to the exhibit.

“It has zero carbon footprint and is not promoting anything for profit,” she adds. “It’s an installation utilized to help preserve and protect the lake.”

Additionally, Hanak says the project is not funded by tax dollars, rather funded by a combination of donations, and grants and sponsorships from organizations supporting sustainability around Lake Tahoe.

“What makes Lake Tahoe so special is the clarity and the color of the lake,” Hanak says. “We want to take the ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’ mantra one step further –- don’t let Tahoe turn green.”

LAKA LELUP will be located on the North Shore near Commons Beach from Aug. 4-13 and on the South Shore near Ski Run Marina from Aug. 22-31.

For more information, visit http://www.tahoepublicart.org.

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