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Whiting: the natural phenomenon that causes Nevada’s Lake Pyramid to turn turquoise

2 min read

Once every 7 to 10 years, a remote lake in Nevada experiences an algae boom so significant that its color changes from dark blue to a vibrant turquoise, in a phenomenon known as “whiting”.

Located in a remote desert area of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation, about 40 miles northeast of Reno, Lake Pyramid is famous for the whiting events that occur there every decade or so. In the course of a few weeks the water turns light blue, turquoise, and, in rare cases, even white. Despite this spontaneous precipitation of calcium carbonate is well documented, it is still today not very well understood. All scientists know is that some factors, including high water temperatures and algae bloom, increase calcium concentrations. Interestingly, whiting events are not dangerous to the aquatic life, but the same cannot be said for land life, including humans and pet.

Pyramid Lake is currently experiencing a temporary toxic algae bloom. Water samples reported from July 22, 2020, show cyanotoxin levels that may cause harm,” Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe said, adding that exposure to the bright turquoise water could cause symptoms like skin rashes, eye irritation, diarrhea and vomiting. Luckily, Lake Pyramid has been shut to outside visitors since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experts also say that animals can suffer from convulsions or even die if exposed to the toxic algae in the water, and have urged daredevils crazy enough to approach Pyramid Lake during the whiting not to take their pets with them.

Satellite imagery shows that the whiting started in a small corner of the lake and gradually expanded, turning the water turquoise. It now covers the entire surface of the water, and experts have no idea how long it will last.

In any case, photos of the unusually-colored water have been going viral on the internet, with many now comparing Pyramid Lake with tropical locations like the Maldives. But despite the lake may be really beautiful to look at, it’s important to remember that the turquoise water is toxic….

All photos: Pyramid Lake Fisheries on Facebook

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