Science, Despite Smoke, at Lake Tahoe

Collecting Critical Data Under Smoky Skies

Researcher Brandon Berry from the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center collects data from a research vessel on the water at Lake Tahoe amid smoke-filled skies.
Researcher Brandon Berry from the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center collects data aboard a research vessel amid smoke-filled skies in August 2021. (Katie Senft, UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Amid hazardous air quality and fire threats, UC Davis scientists at Tahoe were collecting data on the impacts.

This week, the Lake Tahoe Basin has been experiencing the nation's worst air quality as the Caldor Fire and other nearby wildfires threaten the region.

Nevertheless, field staff from the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center were out on the water, taking critical new measurements to better understand how wildfire smoke affects the lake. The scientists included Brant Allen, Katie Senft and Brandon Berry.

Field staff at Tahoe Environmental Research Center monitor the lake during a smoke event in August 2021.
Tahoe Environmental Science Center field lab director and boat captain Brant Allen collects data at Lake Tahoe with interns Lindsay Vaughan and Helen Fillmore amid smoke from the Caldor Fire in late August 2021. (Katie Senft, UC Davis)

Such efforts include measuring solar radiation, UV levels, light absorption and changes in algal growth, and launching underwater gliders to track the changing impacts to the lake over the coming month.

“Most non-essential field work has been postponed due to the conditions, but the smoke-impacts work is considered to be a special and unique opportunity for learning about this new threat to not only Tahoe, but all western lakes and reservoirs,” said TERC Director Geoffrey Schladow.

buoy on lake tahoe with research vessel in the background amid smoke-covered skies
A buoy floats under smoke-covered skies as UC Davis scientists aboard a research vessel collect data about the impacts of wildfire smoke on the lake. (Brandon Berry, UC Davis)


The Tahoe Environmental Research Center has conducted continuous monitoring—come rain, shine, smoke or pandemic—since 1968.

"The conditions have been far from the normal clear days out on Lake Tahoe, but the data we are getting related to smoke impacts will be important to have throughout this fire," said TERC staff research associate Brandon Berry.

You can read more about how the N-95-clad scientists went the extra nautical mile in TERC’s “Smoke on the Water” post from their weekly newsletter “TERC Talk.”


Media Resources

Kat Kerlin is an environmental science writer and media relations specialist at UC Davis. She’s the editor of the “What Can I Do About Climate Change?” blog. @UCDavis_Kerlin

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