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Tahoe submarine dive starts 5-year global research

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Tahoe submarine dive starts 5-year global research

Postby U-5075 » Sun May 03, 2009 9:18 am ... /1321/NEWS

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May 1, 2009

Tahoe submarine dive starts 5-year global research

By Jeff DeLong

A small submarine slipped below the surface of Lake Tahoe on Thursday, beginning a monthlong study of its depths that will be followed by a global underwater adventure.

The dive Thursday off the shore of South Lake Tahoe essentially was a shakedown mission for others planned in May around Tahoe and in nearby Fallen Leaf Lake.

The first manned submarine to research Tahoe's depths in many years will help researchers learn more about earthquake faults, ancient submerged forests and invading creatures threatening the lake's future.

Other submerged mysteries could emerge as well.

"There are a lot of things that haven't been seen in this lake," said Scott Cassell, president and founder of the nonprofit Undersea Voyager Project. "There are large portions of this lake that have yet to be seen."

Cassell, a veteran diver and underwater explorer who recently gained fame as the first person to successfully film a giant squid in its natural environment, called Tahoe a natural place to begin years of planned studies of the planet's oceans.

"Lake Tahoe is a treasure in the United States, and that's why we're here," Cassell said. "Lake Tahoe is almost an inland sea. It has a beautiful ecosystem all it's own, and it's in trouble."

The SeaMagine submarine SeaMobile, which can carry a pilot and observer, will plunge up to 150 feet, the maximum depth at Tahoe's high altitude that divers can safely recover the sub and its occupants. Cassell and colleagues hope to obtain a remote-controlled robotic submersible later this month that will allow studies all the way down to Tahoe's bottom, or more than

1,600 feet below the surface at its deepest.

Plans include:

Examination of three underwater fault lines that triggered large earthquakes thousands of years ago, at least in one case causing a massive tsunami that damaged much of Tahoe's shoreline. Scientists hope for information that might help determine when future earthquakes will occur, Cassell said.

The sub will cruise past submerged forests in Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake, where trees as old as 3,000 years exist.

Exploration will aid research into the suspended particles and algae that steadily eroded Tahoe's famed clarity over the last four decades, a phenomenon associated with human activity around the lake.

Research will be conducted into invasive species threatening Tahoe, including beds of Asian clams found in certain areas. Some experts fear the clams could make Tahoe more vulnerable to establishment of quagga or zebra mussels, which could cause major ecologic and economic damage.

Invasive species pose a "huge threat" to the lake, and it is hoped that information learned through the Undersea Voyager Project can make a significant difference in reducing that danger, said Julie Regan of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which is assisting the effort.

"We have to act and act in a very robust way," Regan said.

After leaving Lake Tahoe, scientists will begin the five-year mission exploring many parts of the world's oceans, using another manned submersible capable of dropping 1,500 feet deep. Crews will study the increasing number of "dead zones" where phosphates and other inorganic toxins are affecting sea life.

Cassell said the oceans are approaching an ecological "tipping point" with profound ramifications for the planet. He said he is hoping the Undersea Voyager Project can help make a difference in keeping oceans healthy.

"People can start to rally together to make changes, so the oceans do not in fact die," Cassell said. "If we can't save Lake Tahoe, what makes us suspect we can save the oceans?"
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Postby U-5075 » Fri Jun 19, 2009 8:26 am ... /1321/news

Tahoe depths reveal mysteries
Sub brings hidden Tahoe world to light
By Jeff DeLong • • June 17, 2009

Searching for clues of Lake Tahoe's tumultuous past, Richard Schweickert slipped into a world of brilliant blue.
A geology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, Schweickert was a passenger aboard a miniature submarine that explored the mysteries of Tahoe's depths in May.
"It reminds me of a helicopter under water," Schweickert said of the vehicle that offered him a fish-eye view of a major earthquake fault off Tahoe's north shore.

The two-person submersible, captained by Scott Cassell of the nonprofit Undersea Voyager Project, made more than 40 dives in Tahoe and nearby Fallen Leaf Lake in May. Crews examined earthquake faults, ancient submerged trees and invading species threatening Tahoe's fragile ecology.

Other explorations are planned in the Pacific and Sea of Cortez during coming months in preparation for a five-year mission, expected to commence in 2011, to study the Earth's oceans and their ecological woes.

"Tahoe is desolate but beautiful. It has a unique charm underwater," said Cassell, 47.

The Pasadena, Calif., resident is a commercial diver, explorer and filmmaker who has been fascinated with the ocean's depths since seeing the movie "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" at age 6.

Cassell dreamed up the Undersea Voyager concept along with veteran submariner Andreas Rechnitzer in 2003 as the pair worried about failing fisheries, the sea's impact on climate and the fact that the vast majority of the Earth's oceans remain unexplored. He made the effort his "life's mission" after Rechnitzer died in 2005.

Lake Tahoe, with a unique ecosystem and a host of environmental troubles -- including sediment pollution and algae robbing its famed clarity as well as invading plants and animals -- seemed a good place to start. At 1,645 feet deep, Tahoe is second only to Oregon's Crater Lake in depth in the U.S.

At Fallen Leaf Lake, the sub cruised past submerged trees, some more than 3,000 years old.

The crew saw evidence that the trees were rooted in the lake bottom, welcome news to John Kleppe, a UNR researcher who has studied the trees for years. Kleppe has long dealt with skeptics who argue the trees simply fell into the lake, becoming embedded in sediment after sinking.
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