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Researchers stunned after ancient lake reappears 130 years after vanishing

Researchers stunned after ancient lake reappears 130 years after vanishing

Despite its arid conditions, San Joaquin was once home to a 100-mile lake.

A lake in the San Joaquin Valley in California has returned after disappearing in the late 19th century.

Known as Tulare Lake, or Pa'ashi meaning 'big water' in the Tachi Yokut Tribe language, is of great importance to its surrounding communities.

Before it disappeared in the late 19th century, it was the 'largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River,' said Vivian Underhill, formerly a postdoctoral research fellow at Northeastern University with the Social Science and Environmental Health Research Institute.

'It’s really difficult to imagine that now.'

Underhill studied the lake's history, revealing a dark past with settler colonialism.

Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Getty
Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Getty

'They really wanted to get [land] into private hands so that indigenous land claims — that were ongoing at that time — would be rendered moot by the time they went through the courts. It was a deeply settler colonial project,' she explained.

Reportedly, the lake first began disappearing in the late 19th Century.

Then, in the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s, the lake made partial reappearances. However, it wasn't until 2023, 130 years later, that it made its official reappearance.

Experts believe this remarkable instance was due to a combination of heavy rains and snowmelt, which repeatedly flooded the region and over time, restored the lake.

It's nowhere near the size it originally was before disappearing, but it's still a pretty vast medium of water.

Make no mistake however, that this is 'not actually a flood. This is a lake returning.'

The San Joaquin Valley of California is a dry, arid place, receiving just over 10 inches of rain a year on average and sometimes as little as three, according to the National Weather Service. So it's a wonder in itself that it was home to a 100-mile long and 30-mile wide body of water.

Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Getty
Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Getty

Tulare Lake's restoration is good news for its winged visitors as Underhill describes that it was an important stopover area for migratory birds.

'The loss of that habitat has been a major issue in bird conservation and bird diversity,' she continued.

'Something that continues to amaze me is - [the birds] know how to find the lake again. It's like they're always looking for it.'

Similarly, the lake return's impact on indigenous communities has been nothing but positive.

For the Tachi Yokuts community, the return of the lake 'has been just an incredibly powerful and spiritual experience,' Underhill described.

'They’ve been holding ceremonies on the side of the lake. They’ve been able to practice their traditional hunting and fishing practices again.'

Featured Image Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Getty