Extreme weather — flooding, hurricanes, drought — are all over the nightly news. It’s not uncommon for Saranac Lake to be mentioned in the winter, usually for being the coldest in the nation. These extreme climate occurrences are having worldwide impacts on some aspects of society, the economy, and natural ecosystems. But what can we expect locally and how do weather fluctuations affect the watershed?
As temperature, precipitation, and other conditions change, effects on biodiversity — the number and variety of plant and animal species in a particular location — can change. These changes can favor the expansion of some highly adaptive invasive species, giving them an advantage over native species. Although species have adapted to environmental change for millions of years, a quickly changing climate could require adaptation on larger and faster scales than in the past. Increased water temperatures, due to warmer winter temperatures with less snowfall and less ice cover, can result in a longer and more robust aquatic growing season for plants such as milfoil. These impacts are also known to contribute to and increase algae blooms.
For Upper Saranac Lake (USL), our native cold-water fish habitat, including trout populations, requires a combination of cool water temperatures and oxygen. New species that could adapt and thrive typically are not native and can be invasive, causing harm to the environment and economy. Even the loss of a single species can have cascading effects because organisms are connected through food webs and other interactions.
Air temperature fluctuations can also affect and intensify the water cycle by driving increased evaporation and precipitation. The resulting altered patterns of precipitation include more rain falling in heavy events, often with longer dry periods in between. Arid periods tend to dry out and kill grasses, trees, and vegetation that holds together our shoreline soils. This creates an opportunity for heavy downpours to increase sedimentation through runoff, further increasing nutrient and phosphorus deposits in the water supply.
The connection between climate change and biodiversity is why the Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) is now documenting weather on USL with the Environmental Monitoring Platform. The platform is an autonomous, in-lake station that uses state-of-the-art technology to continuously monitor the lake. Located in the southern basin of USL, the platform is outfitted with sensors specifically designed to get a better understanding of the extent that extreme weather events and climate change is having on the watershed.