Lakes drying up in southeastern Oregon –geologically, very quickly
Lake Abert’s one of the coolest lakes in Oregon –in my opinion. It’s got birds along its shoreline because it hosts a huge population of brine shrimp (which smell, by the way). It has the brine shrimp because it doesn’t have any fish –and it doesn’t have fish because it’s an alkali lake in a closed basin, full of salt. The water that goes into this lake stays there, until it evaporates. When it evaporates, it leaves behind more salt.
Over the past few years, the lake seems to be drying up faster than usual–which makes all the sense in the world because we’ve had less rainfall than usual over the past few years. There’s still water, but it’s noticeably farther out into the “lake” than before. That’s certainly fast. We, as humans, can watch this lake dry up over just a few years.
But think of what the lake was 20,000 years ago, at the height of the last glaciation! The physiographic map below shows Lake Abert (along US 395) as part of the much larger Lake Chewaucan, which included the even larger Summer Lake basin to the west. There’s all sorts of evidence for this earlier lake: old shorelines, deposits at elevations well above the modern lake, gravel bars. And Lake Chewaucan was only one of many such Pleistocene, or “pluvial” lakes that occupied closed basins in the Oregon and Nevada Basin and Range.
Of course these ages do a “time-number” on me. 20,000 years is a short time, geologically. So just yesterday, this region had many of these large large lakes –and in just a short time, they’ve dwindled to isolated remnants. But in just the last 5 years, those remnants have dwindled even more. It’s dramatic. It’s frightening.
Odd too –those Young Earth Creation types think that planet Earth is younger than Lake Chewaucan! And really? Lake Chewaucan couldn’t have formed unless there was a basin there –and do you see the cliffs on the right (east) side of the lake? That’s Abert Rim, uplifted by a big normal fault –which is what formed the basin. So, the 2000′ of uplift on this fault must be older than the lake, which is older than planet Earth! Cool!
For more photos of Lake Abert, type “Lake Abert” into the geology search engine.
For information about the completely new (available in November, 2014) Roadside Geology of Oregon book.