Re: question about the dry lake itself

Message posted by Peter Merlin on April 27, 2008 at 8:26:47 PST:

Yes, the lakebed does fill with water after a heavy rain. Most times there is only enough water to partially cover the lakebed. The maximum depth is a matter on inches, not feet, so it isn't like any sort of major flood.

The rains have good and bad effects on base operations. Remember, there are unpaved runways marked on the surface of the lakebed and that surface can become cracked over time. The water softens the clay and loosens silt. As the wind blows the water across the lakebed's surface, silt fills the cracks. When the water dies up, the surface is smooth again. So, as you can see, it's a self-repairing runway.

On the downside, a wet lakebed is too soft for aircraft operations. As long as the surface is wet the crosswind runways are unavailiable and lakebed can't be used for emergency landings. That doesn't mean all operations cease. It just limits the available options.

After a winter rain, the water will sometimes freeze. I've seen it happen at Edwards Air Force Base. The entire lakebed was a sheet of ice. I've heard similar stories about Groom Lake. In warmer weather you might see something else. These lakebed contain small shrimp-like creatures called copepods that hatch when the lake is covered with water. Birds come from miles around to feed on them.

The lakebed soil has a high alkali content that is bad for concrete. Flooding on the southwest corner of Groom Lake eventually caused a lot of damage to the north end of the original A-12 runway, as well as the emergency overrun. That is why the runway was extended 5,000 feet on its southern end. That is part of the reason a new runway was eventually built.

In Reply to: question about the dry lake itself posted by Phil on April 26, 2008 at 18:49:47 PST:


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