Living in an Alkaline Environment

A WebQuest Exploring the Life and Ecology of Mono Lake

Introduction Task Process Resources Evaluation Conclusion Teachers


Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert... There are no fish in Mono Lake-no frogs, no snakes, no pollywogs-nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable. Millions of wild ducks and sea-gulls swim about the surface, but no living thing exists under the surface, except a white feathery sort of worm, one half an inch long, which looks like a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides.

- Mark Twain, Roughing It 1872

Mono Lake

Mark Twain considered the waters of Mono Lake to be virtually lifeless. Today, however, we know the lake is teeming with life. In fact, Mono Lake is teaching scientists about life's ability to tolerate extreme conditions. Over the past decade, a new branch of science that looks for life in extreme environments has developed, and scientists continue to find life in exceedingly harsh environments, such as Yellowstone's hot springs and Antarctica's ice sheets. Given the wide range of conditions life tolerates, many scientists say it is quite reasonable to think that we will find microbial life, or signs of past microbial life, on other planets and moons in our solar system.