Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Appearing and Disappearing Lakes

 Earth’s lakes are temporary planetary features. In the experience of many Earth residents, lakes appear to be permanent features on our landscape. Who can forget memorable lake house family vacations of our youth? Or swimming, boating, and camping adventures at the lake on a weekend family getaway? Meteorologically, some news reports during recent years may affirm that lakes are geologically temporary. Planet Earth is often described as a water world. How we manage our water resources  including how water is distributed to every section of the planet is linked to humanity’s wise dominion over all the earth.

Lake Tulare in the state of California is an example of the nature of lakes which alternately appear, disappear, and reappear. Its present size is 178 square miles. Beginning in late 2022 the state of California experienced a heavy onslaught of atmospheric rivers. This meteorological term was first proposed barely three decades ago. The phenomenon is a fascinating description initially described by MIT climate scientists. A NOAA article describes these features as “a flowing column of condensed water vapor in the atmosphere responsible for producing significant levels of rain and snow, especially in the western United States.”

In terms of the impact of more well-known climate phenomena such as hurricanes, blizzards, or droughts, atmospheric rivers have the potential to alter physical conditions of entire geographic regions. Readers could agree that the appearance of a large lake where lush farmland existed for decades fits this description. Lake Tulare in California earns many headlines. California’s recent deluge of atmospheric rivers is stealing headlines away from more familiar meteorological events.

In the early 19th century Tulare Lake existed in California as the largest lake west of the Mississippi River. The decades long drought was unusual. In 1861, Californians were praying for relief from a two decades-long drought. The answer came with a vengeance. Thousands of humans and farm animals perished in a 43-day surge of rain. It was an early example of the atmospheric river phenomenon. Sixty-six inches of rain fell in Los Angeles—four times the normal amount. Muddy water formed for miles across California’s central valley. California residents spent much of the late 19th century trying to get rid of a natural feature which had existed for thousands of years.

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow regions in the atmosphere, like rivers in the sky. Rivers in the sky imagery is appropriate. These rivers transport huge amounts of water  from tropical regions.  The typical atmospheric river carries an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Exceptionally strong atmospheric rivers can transport up to 15 times that amount. They release this water vapor in the form of rain or snow. 

Practices of European explorers and California settlers have not always been characterized by wise “creation care.” The large size of Lake Tulare supplied plentiful food for native Americans populating the area for the past several thousand years. Native Americans have been threatened not only by settlers who wanted to remove the native peoples from their homeland, but also by government actions to drain Lake Tulare in the late 19th century in order to harvest its agricultural bounty. 

The Creator assigned significant authority to humanity to manage our planetary home with wisdom. There are many dimensions to the authority and dominion God transferred to humanity. The dominion extended to management of water and mineral resources, wildlife, and humanity itself. Our focus in this post primarily relates to water resources, but humanity’s authority and dominion is clearly broad-based. 

A familiar Bible passage in the Book of Genesis uses the term dominion in relation to how humanity should manage fish, birds, livestock, andall the earth….” (Genesis 1:27). Dominion is a term Bible commentators have attempted to define. With respect to how humanity should exercise care for God’s creation, we discovered a relevant comment on having dominion over all the earth: “Cruel exploitation is NOT condoned while careful use without abuse is permitted and expected.” (Quote from Biblical Hermeneutics — Stack Exchange) This includes the magnificent water resources by which life is sustained on our “water world planet.”