How have wildfires affected Utah Lake? Researchers are looking into it

PROVO — Researchers are trying to understand how ash from last summer’s Pole Creek, Bald Mountain and Coal Hollow fires are affecting Utah County’s watersheds.

Ben Abbott, an assistant professor from Brigham Young University’s Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences, and a group of student researchers are taking water samples and measuring how the fires have affected the bodies of water in Utah County, particularly Utah Lake, which is already experiencing harmful algal blooms.

“Algal blooms now are all over the world, and there is an increasing number of fires,” he said. “It’s still scientifically an open question. We don’t know how those two phenomena interact.”

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A plate containing a filter cake of algae and cellulose after it has run through a plate and frame filter press in the greenhouse at Utah Valley University in Orem is pictured on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Though separate, their research is in concurrence with Utah Valley University’s proposal to the Utah Lake Commission to build an algae-harvesting boat to deploy in Utah Lake this summer.

Abbott and his researchers want to understand how much sediment was transported from the fires, how the water chemistry has changed, and the impacts it might have on the lake’s ecosystem.

Spanish Fork River, where the majority of the ash is flowing from, Provo River and American Fork River were also affected by the fires.

Abbott called last year’s fires, which burned approximately 300 square miles of forest, “megafires.” But not all wildfires are bad for the environment, he said, as they can lead to diverse habitat in the landscape.

“That wildfire, sure, it does kill the plants in that one patch, but then it lets other organisms and species and other kinds of ecosystems develop in that place,” he said.

Without wildfires, certain species wouldn’t exist as …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Top stories


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