Gore, Clinton, and Goldman

About TERC

THE UC DAVIS TAHOE ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH CENTER is a global leader in research, education, and public outreach on lakes that provides critical scientific information to help understand, restore, and sustain the Lake Tahoe Basin and other systems worldwide.


Known for its beauty and remarkable transparency, Lake Tahoe is a natural jewel in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Tahoe basin is a changing landscape and, today, significant portions of this once pristine region are urbanized. Unfortunately, over the last five decades, increased human development has had a significant impact in the Tahoe Basin. Studies from the early 1960s to the present have shown that many factors such as land disturbance, increasing resident and tourist population, habitat destruction, air pollution, soil erosion, roads and road maintenance, and loss of wetlands have all interacted to degrade the Basin's air quality, terrestrial landscape and streams, as well as the lake itself.

The lake has responded to increased nutrient loading from the streams, atmosphere and groundwater with steadily increasing algal growth (eutrophication) and a progressive reduction of clarity. The lake has lost approximately 33 feet, or one-third of its famous transparency, during the last 30 years and oxygen concentrations in the deep waters have declined significantly. Thick growths of attached algae now coat the shoreline rocks in the spring.

TERC is dedicated to objective research on these and other factors at Lake Tahoe and to bringing this information to the public. The Tahoe Science Center in Incline Village, NV presents the latest findings to walk-in visitors, organized groups, and school field trips. Special events are designed to promote science education in schools and to encourage lifelong learning in the Tahoe community.


  • Investigate the relationship between basin development, air quality, and the increased algal growth in Lake Tahoe's historically crystalline waters.
  • Educate residents and visitors on environmental issues at Lake Tahoe and how to be responsible stewards of the lake.
  • Present Lake Tahoe as a model for the study of a fragile ecosystem under severe development pressure.
  • Aid students, agency personnel, conservation professionals, landowners and elected officials in the understanding and management of natural ecosystems.
  • Provide environmental sciences research training to graduate and undergraduate students. 
  • Establish a world-class environmental research laboratory and program that supports the spectrum of research essential to resolve environmental problems at Tahoe and throughout the world.
  • Attract distinguished scientists from the U.S. and abroad for collaboration in research and exchange of scientific ideas.


  • Serve as a nucleus for scientific research in the northern Sierra Nevada, with emphasis on Lake Tahoe and its watershed.
  • Build a comprehensive picture of the dynamics of the lake's chemistry, physics and biology to provide a scientific basis for policy setting.
  • Foster a greater public concern for the conservation of natural resources and environmental quality everywhere.
  • Conduct research in the environmental sciences using state-of-the-art techniques as well as developing new innovative approaches.
  • Establish and maintain long-term studies of the Lake Tahoe ecosystem with emphasis on global climatic change that are applicable to lakes throughout the world.
  • Provide scientific data to students, agency personnel, conservation professionals, landowners and elected officials that serve as a sound basis for development of the most cost-effective government regulations.
  • Support fundraising efforts in the basin to provide a state-of-the-art laboratory and expand education and training programs.


The first professor hired by the fledgling University of California in 1868 was the physicist John LeConte. He initiated the first scientific measurements in Lake Tahoe, including the first measurements of its clarity. UC Davis, through the pioneering work of Dr. Charles Goldman, began conducting research on Lake Tahoe in 1958; as a result, there is over 50 years of data that describes the lake's ecosystem, as well as its watershed and airshed. Every 10 days a white Secchi disk is lowered into the lake from the UC Davis research vessel (RV John LeConte) to determine the lake's clarity. The annual State of the Lake report provides the science that federal, state, and local government agencies use to assess the lake's health and guide management decisions. This pivotal research stands apart in importance from any other that has been conducted in the country, particularly useful in understanding the impact of change in freshwater environments over time.

TERC around the world

With over 50 years of limnology research conducted at Lake Tahoe, UC Davis has trained hundreds of scientists and researchers here. They are now environmental and educational leaders around the world, taking the lessons learned from Lake Tahoe and applying them globally. TERC's current research is touching every continent, with active collaborations with researchers in Spain, Turkey, Iceland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Bhutan, Chile, and Tanzania.

Education and Outreach at TERC

Education and outreach is an integral component of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) activities in the Tahoe basin. The goal of our education programs is to provide science-based information about the Lake Tahoe region in order to foster responsible action and stewardship. TERC currently interacts with more than 11,000 people annually, including providing over 4,000 local students with the opportunity to learn about the unique and fragile ecosystem of Lake Tahoe, the state-of-the-art science and research activities occurring here, and how they can protect the Tahoe basin. Programs for the public include tours of the Thomas J. Long Foundation Education Center also known as the Tahoe Science Center (Incline Village) and the Eriksson Education Center (Tahoe City), monthly lecture series, docent training program, the Youth Science Institute for high school students, and various events, such as Science Expo (March), Children's Environmental Science Day (August). Programs for educators include a summer "Tahoe Teacher Institute" and teacher workshops such as "Project WET." 

TERC Facilities

The main TERC labs and offices are located in the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences (TCES) building located on the Sierra Nevada College Campus. Within the TCES building is our platinum LEED lab facility, the Tahoe Science Center, and the UC Davis offices. TERC also has a small fleet of research vessels, including the R/V John Leconte, R/V Bob Richards, and the R/V Ted Franz. The R/V Ted Franz is housed at the Tahoe City Field Station also known as the Historic Hatchery where the majority of TERC's field equipment is located. Our offices on the actual UC Davis campus are in the Watershed Sciences building.