Mono Lake

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Mono Lake
Wfm mono lake landsat.jpg
Landsat image of Mono Lake
Location Mono County, California
Coordinates 38°01′00″N 119°00′34″W / 38.0165908°N 119.0093116°W / 38.0165908; -119.0093116Coordinates: 38°01′00″N 119°00′34″W / 38.0165908°N 119.0093116°W / 38.0165908; -119.0093116
Type Endorheic, Monomictic
Primary inflows Rush Creek, Lee Vining Creek, Mill Creek
Primary outflows Evaporation
Catchment area 2,030 km2 (780 sq mi)
Basin countries United States
Max. length 13 mi (21 km)
Max. width 9.3 mi (15 km)
Surface area 45,133 acres (18,265 ha)[1]
Average depth 57 ft (17 m)[1]
Max. depth 159 ft (48 m)[1]
Water volume 2,970,000 acre⋅ft (3.66 km3)
Surface elevation 6,383 ft (1,946 m) above sea level
Islands Two major: Negit Island and Paoha Island; numerous minor outcroppings (including tufa rock formations). The lake's water level is notably variable.
References U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Mono Lake

Mono Lake (/ˈmn/ MOH-noh) is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.

This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies (that also feed on the shrimp).[2][3] Historically, the native Kutzadika'a people derived nutrition from the Ephydra hians pupae, which live in the shallow waters around the edge of the lake having been hatched from the eggs of adult alkali flies.

When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the freshwater streams flowing into the lake, it lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially replenish the lake level.


Mono Lake occupies part of the Mono Basin, an endorheic basin that has no outlet to the ocean. Dissolved salts in the runoff thus remain in the lake and raise the water's pH levels and salt concentration. The tributaries of Mono Lake include Lee Vining Creek, Rush Creek and Mill Creek which flows through Lundy Canyon.[4]

The basin was formed by geological forces over the last five million years: basin and range crustal stretching and associated volcanism and faulting at the base of the Sierra Nevada.[5] Five million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was an eroded set of rolling hills and Mono Basin and Owens Valley did not yet exist.

Map of the Mono Lake area, showing geological features
Map showing the system of once-interconnected Pleistocene lakes in eastern California
Relief map of Mono Lake and surrounding area
From top to bottom: USGS map of the Mono Lake area showing geological features, map showing the system of once-interconnected Pleistocene lakes, relief map of Mono Lake and surrounding area

From 4.5 to 2.6 million years ago, large volumes of basalt were extruded around what is now Cowtrack Mountain (east and south of Mono Basin); eventually covering 300 square miles (780 km2) and reaching a maximum thickness of 600 feet (180 m).[5] Later volcanism in the area occurred 3.8 million to 250,000 years ago.[6] This activity was northwest of Mono Basin and included the formation of Aurora Crater, Beauty Peak, Cedar Hill (later an island in the highest stands of Mono Lake), and Mount Hicks.

Mono Lake is believed to have formed at least 760,000 years ago, dating back to the Long Valley eruption. Sediments located below the ash layer hint that Mono Lake could be a remnant of a larger and older lake that once covered a large part of Nevada and Utah, which would put it among the oldest lakes in North America. At its height during the most recent ice age, the lake would have been about 900 feet (270 m) deep.[7] Prominent old shore lines, called strandlines by geologists, can be seen west of the Lake.[8]

Currently, Mono Lake is in a geologically active area at the north end of the Mono–Inyo Craters volcanic chain and is close to Long Valley Caldera. Volcanic activity continues in the Mono Lake vicinity: the most recent eruption occurred 350 years ago, resulting in the formation of Paoha Island. Panum Crater (on the south shore of the lake) is an excellent example of a combined rhyolite dome and cinder cone.

Tufa towers[edit]

Among the most iconic features of Mono Lake are the columns of limestone that tower over the water surface. These limestone towers consist primarily of calcium carbonate minerals such as calcite, CaCO3. This type of limestone rock is referred to as tufa, which is a term used for limestone that form in low to moderate temperatures.

Tufa formation[edit]

Mono Lake is a highly alkaline lake/soda lake. Alkalinity is a measure of how many bases are in the solution and how well the water can neutralize acids. Carbonate, CO32- and bicarbonate, HCO3-, are both bases. Hence, Mono Lake has a very high content of dissolved carbon. Through supply of calcium ions, Ca2+, the water will precipitate carbonate-minerals such as calcite, CaCO3. When ground waters filled with dissolved calcium ions run into the lake water through small springs in the bottom of the lake, huge amounts of calcite precipitate around the spring orifice and create the well-known tufa towers[9]. The tufa towers were originally created at the bottom of the lake. However, when lake levels fell, the tufa towers came to rise above the water surface and stand as the majestic pillars that they are today. The sediments found in cores of Holocene lake sediments also contain high concentrations of carbonate (5-50%).[10]

Tufa morphology[edit]

These are original sketches of thinolite made by Edward S. Dana from his book from 1884: Crystallographic Study of the Thinolite of Lake Lahontan.[11]

Description of the Mono Lake tufa dates back to the 1880's, when Edward S. Dana and Israel C. Russell made the first systematic descriptions of

the Mono Lake tufa[12][13] These pioneering works in tufa morphology are still referred to by researchers today and were confirmed by James R. Dunn in 1953. The tufa types can roughly be divided into three main categories based on morphology[14][15]:

  • Lithoid tufa - massive and porous with a rock-like appearance
  • Dendritic tufa - branching structures that look similar to small shrubs
  • Thinolitic tufa - large well-formed crystals of several cm

These tufa types vary interchangeably within the tufa towers themselves.

Through time, there were many hypotheses regarding the formation of the large thinolite crystals (also referred to as glendonite) in thinolitic tufa. It was relatively clear that the thinolites represented a calcite pseudomorph after some unknown original crystal.[13] However, the original crystal was only determined, when the mineral ikaite was discovered in 1963.[16] Ikaite, hexahydrated CaCO3, is metastable and only crystallizes at near-freezing temperatures. It is also believed that calcite crystallization inhibitors such as phosphate, magnesium, and organic carbon may aid in the stabilization of ikaite.[17] With heating conditions, ikaite would break-down and become replaced by smaller crystals of calcite.[18][19] In the Ikka Fjord of Greenland, ikaite was also observed to grow in columns similar to the tufa towers of Mono Lake.[20] This has led scientists to believe that thinolitic tufa is an indicator of past climates in Mono Lake because they reflect very cold temperatures.

Tufa chemistry[edit]

Rusell (1883) studied the chemical composition of the different tufa types in Lake Lahontan, a large pleistocene system of multiple lakes in California, Nevada, and Oregon. Not surprisingly, it was found that the tufas consisted primarily of CaO and CO2. However, they also contain minor constituents of MgO (~2 wt%), Fe/Al-oxides (.25-1.29 wt%), and PO5 (0.3 wt%).

The δ18O of a water mixture between lake water and riverine freshwater would fall on the red line. The δ18O composition of a mixture would depend on the fraction of lake water to riverine freshwater.

Carbon and oxygen isotopes[edit]

Mono lake water has a δ13C composition of 2 ‰[21] from DIC, and a δ18O of -0.1 ‰ (relative to SMOW)[22], while surrounding river freshwaters have a δ13C composition of -14 ‰ from DIC and a δ18O of -14 to -17.5 ‰ (relative to SMOW).[22] Because the surrounding streams of Mono Lake have a depleted δ13C and δ18O compared to the lake water, a resulting water mixture will be depleted comparative to lake water. The figure to the right shows how δ18O of a water mixture changes with the fraction of water consisting of lake water. As the fraction of lake water is lower, the δ18O is lower.[23] The total CO2 concentration (ΣCO2) is naturally much higher in the lake than in surrounding streams. Hence, this isotopic dilution effect is less significant for δ13C, and water mixtures will be dominantly composed of δ13C with lake water signatures.[23] In conclusion, Mono Lake tufa should have a δ13C composition reflecting the Mono lake water DIC composition and a δ18O composition reflecting a mixture between Mono Lake and surrounding riverine water.

There is a temperature- and salinity-dependent fractionation between Mono Lake water and precipitating carbonates. A study evaluated the clumped isotope composition of Mono Lake tufa.[24] From their Δ47 values (0.734-0.735 ‰), the researchers could calculate temperature, and δ18O composition[25] of the corresponding water from which the tufa formed. The results showed that Mono Lake tufa formed at a temperature of ~15 °C in water. For δ18O, the calcite-H2O fractionation is given by:

ε = 18.03(1000/T)-32.42[26] ~ -30‰ (SMOW)

For δ13C, the calcite-DIC fractionation is roughly given by:

ε ~ 1-2 ‰[27]

However, these fractionation effects do not account for salinity-dependency.

Mono lake tufa has been studied using carbon isotopes, oxygen isotopes, and clumped isotopes. Mono lake tufa appears to have relatively heavy δ13C (‰) values of 5.06- 7.99 ‰[28] and 7.77-8.84 ‰[24] from two studies. Hence, they seem to be enriched compared to modern lake water DIC, which is unexplained by the calcite-DIC fractionation. The δ18O values are 28-32.5‰ (relative to SMOW) from the same two studies, which reflects water mixture compositions of -2‰ to 2‰ (relative to SMOW).[28][24]

Lake level history[edit]

In a closed lake system like Mono Lake, as coupled evaporation and CO2-degassing progresses, the lake water δ18O and δ13C will increase. During stable low stands or high stands, there is no correlation between δ13C and δ18O. Importantly, a transformation to an open lake system may also cause δ13C and δ18O to be uncorrelated. Following increased precipitation and surface runoff, the δ18O and δ13C will decrease.

An important characteristic of Mono Lake is that it is a closed lake. This means that water does not flow out of the lake on the surface. Water can only escape the lake if it evaporates or is lost to groundwater. This may cause closed lakes to become very saline. The lake level of closed lakes will be strongly dependent on changes in climate. Hence, studying lake levels can reveal information about climate change in the past and present. Geochemists have observed that carbonates from closed lakes appear to have δ13C and δ18O with covariant trends.[29] It has been proposed that this covariation occurs because of coupled evaporation and CO2 degassing.[30] The lighter isotopes, 12C and 16O, will preferentially go to the gas phase with increased evaporation. As a result, δ13C and δ18O both become increasingly heavy. Other factors such as biology, atmospheric properties, and freshwater compositions and flow may also influence δ13C and δ18O in lakes.[30][31] These factors must be stable to achieve a covariant δ13C and δ18O trend.[29] As such, correlations between δ18O and δ13C can be used to infer developments in the lake stability and hydrological characteristics through time.[29] It is important to note that this correlation is not directly related to the lake level itself but rather the rate of change in lake level.

150 year record[edit]

The covariation between δ18O in lake water and lake level were tested through a 150 year record in Mono Lake.[32] The δ18O record was compared to historic lake levels recorded by the USGS. The two were observed to have a strong correlation with minor offsets. Here, increases and decreases in δ18O in lake water correlated with decreasing and increasing lake level correspondingly revealing 6 stages in lake level in the past 150 years:[32] high stands at 1845, 1880, and 1915 as well as low stand at 1860, 1900, and 1933. The study compared the δ18O record to the recorded precipitation and streamflow of Nevada City in California. It was observed that decreases in δ18O correlated well with increases in precipitation as well as increases in streamflow and vice versa.

10.000 year record[edit]

A study investigating a 10000 year record through carbonates in sediment cores (dated through ash beds).[30] Here δ18O and δ13C did covary when observed through long time intervals of >5000 years, whereas the correlation was not present during shorter time scales. The study reconstructed lake levels and changes in alkalinity through the sediment cores. It was suggested that the record revealed 5 periods of distinct lake conditions:[32]

9.7-8.7 ka: A rise in δ18O and δ13C (R=0.97) reflects and increase lake level.In fact, the lake level reaches the Holocene High Stand. This high stand corresponds to a period of maximum effective moisture in the Great Basin.

8.7-6.5 ka: A sudden drop in δ18O and δ13C suggests that lake levels dropped. Following, weak correlation between δ18O and δ13C (R=0.46) suggests the stabilization of lake levels.

6.5-5.9 ka: A decrease in δ18O and δ13C (R=0.83) correlates with a decrease in lake volume.The decrease continued until the Holocene Low Stand at 5.9 ka, which corresponds to minimum effect moisture in the Great basin.

2-0.6 ka: The gap between 6-2 ka can be attributed to shallow lake conditions. The sediments between 2-0.6 ka are dominated by deposition in shallow water.[33] The Midieval Warm Period at 0.9-0.7 ka, the lake level was around the same as today.[33] In general, the period was dominated by a shallow, stable lake level with low covariance (R=0.56) between δ18O and δ13C.

490-360 a: This period corresponds to the Little Ice Age. The isotopic record has very high annual resolution. An increase in δ18O and δ13C (R=0.71) corresponds to increasing lake level during 490-430 a. The lake levels were generally high but fluctuated a little resulting in low correlation between δ18O and δ13C . At the end of this period, δ18O and δ13C evolved towards a trend of decreasing lake level.

Overall the lake levels appeared to correspond to known climatic events such as maximum/minimum period of effective moisture, Midieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

35.000 year record[edit]

Lake levels of Mono Lake during the pleistocene have also been reconstructed using stratigraphic inspection.[34] Lajoie (1968) mapped out terraces that corresponded to paleoshorelines. Through these now-exposed ancient shorelines, he was able to estimate past lake levels. Later, these terraces were dated with radio carbon dating. It was found that they extended over a period of 35.000 years.[35] δ18O of the Wilson Creek Formation that represent a succession of Mono Lake sediments extends over the same time period.[36] Hence, the lake levels over 35.000 years have been reconstructed.

36-35 ka: Decreasing δ18O reveals that lake level began to rise at about this time from a lake level altitude of 2015 m.

35-21 ka: High/intermediate stable lake level. These lake levels corresponded to two beds of silt that would have been deposited in a deep lake. This stable high lake level corresponds to little fluctuation in δ18O.

20-15 ka: There was a fall in lake level prior to this period, sand delta terraces from this time period indicate a lake-surface altitude of 2035 m according to mapping by Lajoie (1968).[34][35] δ18O records shows a fluctuating increase in δ18O over this time period, which would reflect falling lake level.[36]

5-13 ka: During this period, Mono Lake rose to its highest level which corresponded to a lake-surface altitude of 2155 m. This corresponds with a decrease in δ18O.

13+ ka: Following peak lake level, lake level decreased to a paleoshoreline of 1965 m at ~ 10 ka corresponding to an increase in δ18O.

This lake level record has been correlated with significant climatic events including polar jet stream movement, Heinrich, and Dansgaard-Oeschger events. You can read about these in the section on Paleoclimate resonstruction.


Climate data for Mono Lake, CA
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 66
Average high °F (°C) 40.4
Average low °F (°C) 19.7
Record low °F (°C) −6
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.17
Average snowfall inches (cm) 15.5

Paleoclimate reconstruction[edit]

The reconstruction of lake levels through carbon and oxygen isotopes have revealed interesting results that can be correlated to dramatic changes in climate in the North Atlantic. In the recent past, the Earth experienced periods of increased glaciation known as ice ages. This ice age period is known as the pleistocene, which lasted until ~11 ka. Lake levels in Mono Lake can reveal how the climate fluctuated. For example, during the cold climate of the pleistocene the lake level was higher because there was less evaporation and more precipitation. Following the pleistocene, the lake level was lower because of more evaporation and less precipitation associated with a warmer climate. Mono Lake reveals the climate variation on 3 different time scales: Milankovich (~10.000 years), Heinrich (varying), and Dansgaard-Oeschger (~1000 years).

Jet stream event[edit]

On the 10.000 year time-scale a trend in δ18O of the Wilson Creek sediments suggested correlation with a change in position of the polar jet stream caused by an increase in the Northern American ice sheet from 35-18 ka.[37] Between 18-13 ka during a low level, the polar jet stream is presumed to have been forced to the south of Mono Lake.[37] Furthermore, the Tioga glaciation could be correlated to a reduction in Total Inorganic Carbon content of the sediments during 26-14 ka.[37]

Heinrich events[edit]

Through the Wilson Creek Formation, a section of well-preserved lake sediments, the lake level history of 36.000 years can be investigated. [37] As described above, researchers used the δ18O of the Wilson Creek sediments as a proxy for lake level.[37] They found that 3 low lake levels correlated with 3 Heinrich events.[37] Heinrich events are events, where icebergs melted broke off from the main ice sheets in the North Atlantic. The age correlation was based on radiocarbon dating and paleomagnetic secular variation.[37]


From the compilation of δ18O data from lakes throughout the Great Basin including Pyramid Lake, Summer Lake, Owens Lake, and Mono Lake, it has been observed that changes in lake level can be correlated to Dansgaard-Oeschger events.[38] Dansgaard-Oeschger events are rapid fluctuations in the climate on a 1000-year time scale. The causes for these fluctuations are still unresolved. Oscillation between cold/dry (low lake level with low precipitation) and warm/wet (high lake level with high precipitation) were correlated with Dansgaard-Oeschger and Heinrich events of the GISP2 core from 46-27 ka.[38]


Mono Lake's "South Tufa" area

The limnology of the lake shows it contains approximately 280 million tons of dissolved salts, with the salinity varying depending upon the amount of water in the lake at any given time. Before 1941, average salinity was approximately 50 grams per liter (g/l) (compared to a value of 31.5 g/l for the world's oceans). In January 1982, when the lake reached its lowest level of 6,372 feet (1,942 m), the salinity had nearly doubled to 99 g/l. In 2002, it was measured at 78 g/l and is expected to stabilize at an average 69 g/l as the lake replenishes over the next 20 years.[39]

An unintended consequence of ending the water diversions was the onset of a period of "meromixis" in Mono Lake.[40] In the time prior to this, Mono Lake was typically "monomictic"; which means that at least once each year the deeper waters and the shallower waters of the lake mixed thoroughly, thus bringing oxygen and other nutrients to the deep waters. In meromictic lakes, the deeper waters do not undergo this mixing; the deeper layers are more saline than the water near the surface, and are typically nearly devoid of oxygen. As a result, becoming meromictic greatly changes a lake's ecology.

Mono Lake has experienced meromictic periods in the past; this most recent episode of meromixis, brought on by the end of the water diversions, commenced in 1994 and had ended by 2004.[41]


Aquatic life[edit]

Large numbers of alkali flies at Mono Lake
Artemia monica, the Mono Lake brine shrimp

The hypersalinity and high alkalinity (pH=10 or equivalent to 4 milligrams of NaOH per liter of water) of the lake means that no fish are native to the lake.[42] An attempt by the California Department of Fish and Game to stock the lake failed.[43]

The whole food chain of the lake is based on the high population of single-celled planktonic algae present in the photic zone of the lake. These algae reproduce rapidly during winter and early spring after winter runoff brings nutrients to the surface layer of water. By March the lake is "as green as pea soup" with photosynthesizing algae.[44]

The lake is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp, Artemia monica, a tiny species of brine shrimp, no bigger than a thumbnail, that are endemic to the lake. During the warmer summer months, an estimated 4–6 trillion brine shrimp inhabit the lake. Brine shrimp have no food value for humans, but are a staple for birds of the region. The brine shrimp feed on microscopic algae.

Alkali flies, Ephydra hians live along the shores of the lake and walk underwater, encased in small air bubbles for grazing and to lay eggs. These flies are an important source of food for migratory and nesting birds.


Mono Lake is a vital resting and eating stop for migratory shorebirds and has been recognized as a site of international importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.[45] Nearly 2,000,000 waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use Mono Lake to rest and eat for at least part of the year. Some shorebirds that depend on the resources of Mono Lake include American avocets, killdeer and sandpipers. Over 1.5 million eared grebes and phalaropes use Mono Lake during their long migrations.

A female Audubon's warbler on tufa in the "South Tufa" area

Late every summer tens of thousands of Wilson's phalaropes and red-necked phalaropes arrive from their nesting grounds, and feed until they continue their migration to South America or the tropical oceans respectively.[2]

In addition to migratory birds, a few species spend several months to nest at Mono Lake. Mono Lake has the second largest nesting population of California gulls, Larus californicus, second only to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Since abandoning the landbridged Negit Island in the late 1970s, California gulls have moved to some nearby islets and have established new, if less protected, nesting sites. Cornell University and Point Reyes Bird Observatory have continued the study of nesting populations on Mono Lake that was begun over 20 years ago. Snowy plovers also arrive at Mono Lake each spring to nest along the remote eastern shores.


Captain John, leader of the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes

Native Americans[edit]

The indigenous people of Mono Lake are from a band of the Northern Paiute, called the Kutzadika'a.[46] They speak the Northern Paiute language.[47] The Kutzadika'a traditionally forage alkali fly pupae, called kutsavi in their language.[48] Mono Lake was also referred to as Teniega Bah. The origin of the name "Kutzadika'a" is uncertain but could be a Yokut Native American term for "fly eater".[49]

The term "Mono" is derived from "Monachi", a Yokut term for the tribes that live on both the east and west side of the Sierra Nevada.[50]

During early contact, the first known Mono Lake Paiute chief was Captain John. He was also referred to by the Paiute names of Shibana or Poko Tucket. Captain John was the son of a Northern Paiute named 'older Captain John.'

The Mono tribe has two bands: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Mono joined the Western Mono bands' villages annually at Hetch Hetchy Valley, Yosemite Valley, and along the Merced River to gather acorns, different plant species, and to trade. The Western Mono traditionally lived in the south-central Sierra Nevada foothills, including Historical Yosemite Valley.[51]

Present day Mono Reservations are currently located in Big Pine, Bishop, and several in Madera County and Fresno County, California.

Conservation efforts[edit]

Exposed tufa towers in Mono Lake; South Tufa, 1981

The City of Los Angeles diverted water from the Owens River into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power extended the Los Angeles Aqueduct system farther northward into the Mono Basin with the completion of the Mono Craters Tunnel[52] between the Grant Lake Reservoir on Rush Creek, and the Upper Owens River. So much water was diverted that evaporation soon exceeded inflow and the surface level of Mono Lake fell rapidly. By 1982 the lake was reduced to 37,688 acres (15,252 ha) 69 percent of its 1941 surface area. "[By 1990, the lake had dropped 45 vertical feet and had lost half its volume]" relative to the 1941 pre-diversion water level.[53] As a result, alkaline sands and formerly submerged tufa towers became exposed, the water salinity doubled, and Negit Island became a peninsula, exposing the nests of California gulls to predators (such as coyotes), and forcing the gull colony to abandon this site.

In 1974, Stanford University graduate student David Gaines studied the Mono Lake ecosystem, and he became instrumental in alerting the public of the effects of the lower water level.[54] The National Science Foundation funded the first comprehensive ecological study of Mono Lake, conducted by Gaines and undergraduate students from the University of California at Davis, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Earlham College. In June 1977, the Davis Institute of Ecology of the University of California published a report, "An Ecological Study of Mono Lake, California," which alerted California to the ecological dangers posed by the redirection of water away from the lake for municipal uses.[54]

Mono Lake viewed from the summit of Mount Dana. Note near-landbridge at left, almost connecting Negit Island with the mainland shoreline.

Gaines formed the Mono Lake Committee in 1978. He and Sally Judy, a UC Davis student, led the committee and pursued an informational tour of California. They joined with the Audubon Society to fight a now famous court battle, the National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, to protect Mono Lake through state public trust laws.[54] While these efforts have resulted in positive change, the surface level is still below historical levels, and exposed shorelines are a source of significant alkaline dust during periods of high winds.

Owens Lake, the once-navigable terminus of the Owens River which had sustained a healthy ecosystem, is now a dry lake bed during dry years due to water diversion beginning in the 1920s. Mono Lake was spared this fate when the California State Water Resources Control Board (after over a decade of litigation) issued an order to protect Mono Lake and its tributary streams on September 28, 1994. Since that time, the lake level has steadily risen. In 1941 the surface level was at 6,417 feet (1,956 m) above sea level.[55] As of October 2013, Mono Lake was at 6,380.6 feet (1,945 m) above sea level.[55] The lake level of 6,392 feet (1,948 m) above sea level is the goal, a goal made more difficult during years of drought in the American West.

Mono Lake as seen from California State Route 120 (Mono Mills Road) on south

In popular culture[edit]

"South Tufa, Mono Lake", 2013.


  • In 1968, the artist Robert Smithson made Mono Lake Non-Site (Cinders near Black Point)[56] using pumice collected while visiting Mono on July 27, 1968 with his wife Nancy Holt and Michael Heizer (both prominent visual artists). In 2004, Nancy Holt made a short film entiled Mono Lake using Super 8 footage and photographs of this trip. An audio recording by Smithson and Heizer, two songs by Waylon Jennings, and Michel Legrand's Le Jeu, the main theme of Jacques Demy's film Bay of Angels (1963), were used for the soundtrack.[57]
  • The Diver, a photo taken by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis for Pink Floyd's album Wish You Were Here (1975), features what appears to be a man diving into a lake, creating no ripples. The photo was taken at Mono Lake, and the tufa towers are a prominent part of the landscape. The effect was actually created when the diver performed a handstand underwater until the ripples dissipated.[58]


  • The volcano scene from the film Fair Wind to Java (1953)[59] was shot at Mono Lake.
  • The movie High Plains Drifter (1973) was directed by Clint Eastwood and his Malpaso Productions company, at a site along the shore of Mono Lake between the South Tufa area and the mouth of Rush Creek. The movie-set town of Lago was constructed for the on location shooting and Eastwood, along with his cast and crew, lived for several months among local residents in the nearby towns of Lee Vining and June Lake.


In print[edit]

  • Mark Twain's Roughing It, published in 1872, provides a humorous and informative early description of Mono Lake in its natural condition in the 1860s.[61][62] Twain found the lake to be a "lifeless, treeless, hideous desert... the loneliest place on earth."[7][63]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Quick Facts About Mono Lake". Mono Lake Committee. 
  2. ^ a b "Birds of the Basin: the Migratory Millions of Mono". Mono Lake Committee. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  3. ^ Carle, David (2004). Introduction to Water in California. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24086-3. 
  4. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Lundy Canyon
  5. ^ a b Tierney 2000, p. 45
  6. ^ Tierney 2000, p. 46
  7. ^ a b Harris 2005, p. 61
  8. ^ "Mono Lake". Long Valley Caldera Field Guide. USGS. 
  9. ^ Dunn, James (1953). "The origin of the deposits of tufa in Mono Lake". Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. 23: 18–23. 
  10. ^ Li, H. C. (1995). Isotope Geochemistry of Mono Lake, California: applications to paleoclimate and paleohydrology [PhD dissertation]. Available from University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
  11. ^ Dana, E. S. (1884). A crystallographic study of the thinolite of Lake Lahontan (No. 12). Govt. Print. Off.
  12. ^ Rusell, I. C. (1889). Quaternary history of Mono Valley, California: U. S. Geol. Survey 8th Ann. Rept. for 1886- 1887, 261-394
  13. ^ a b Dana, E. S. (1884). A crystallographic study of the thinolite of Lake Lahontan (No. 12). Govt. Print. Off.
  14. ^ Dunn, James (1953). "The origin of the deposits of tufa in Mono Lake". Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. 23: 18–23. 
  15. ^ Russell, I. C. (1883). Sketch of the geological history of Lake Lahontan: U. S. Geol. Survey 3rd Ann. Rept. for 1881-1882, 189-235.
  16. ^ Pauly, H. (1963). " Ikaite", a New Mineral from Greenland. Arctic, 16(4), 263-264.
  17. ^ Council, T. C., & Bennett, P. C. (1993). Geochemistry of ikaite formation at Mono Lake, California: Implications for the origin of tufa mounds. Geology, 21(11), 971-974.
  18. ^ Shearman, D. J., McGugan, A., Stein, C., & Smith, A. J. (1989). Ikaite, CaCO3̇6H2O, precursor of the thinolites in the Quaternary tufas and tufa mounds of the Lahontan and Mono Lake Basins, western United States. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 101(7), 913-917.
  19. ^ Swainson, I. P., & Hammond, R. P. (2001). Ikaite, CaCO3· 6H2O: Cold comfort for glendonites as paleothermometers. American Mineralogist, 86(11-12), 1530-1533.
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