Dr. Melanie Mormile, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Rolla, has been elected a fellow of the Science Advisory Board of the Soap Lake Conservancy.
The appointment was announced Feb. 19 by John Glassco, chair of the Soap Lake Conservancy’s Science and Technology Committee and chair of the Science Advisory Board. Also elected fellow was Dr. Michael Storrie-Lombardi, an astrobiologist at the Kinohi Institute in Pasadena, Calif.
Mormile, an environmental microbiologist, is a co-principal investigator in the establishment of a Microbial Observatory to study the unique community of life forms found throughout the stratified lake’s water column, including its dense lower layer.
With its high pH and salinity, Soap Lake is unique in that it has not turned over in more than 2,000 years.
"Normally, lakes turn over twice a year due to temperature changes in the water," Mormile explains. Throughout the year, material like dead algae with all their nutrients accumulate at the bottom of the lake. During the summer months, the bottom of the lake stays cool while the surface gets warm, trapping the nutrients at the bottom. As fall approaches, the temperature throughout the whole lake becomes the same and mixing or turnover can occur.
Soap Lake’s shape and high bottom salt content prevent it from turning over, trapping those nutrients.
"The bottom section of the lake contains so much salt it’s like syrup," said Mormile.
The Soap Lake Microbial Observatory project is funded through an $840,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Other principal investigators in the project are Dr. Holly Pinkart, associate professor of biological sciences at Central Washington University, and Dr. Brent Peyton, associate professor of chemical engineering at Washington State University.
The Soap Lake Conservancy was organized in 2000 as a non-profit body to protect and preserve the ecology of Soap Lake’s mineral waters as a therapeutic resource and health attraction, and to encourage economic development based on the lake’s unique attributes.