Lake Bed Treasure Hunts Are a Bizarre Side Effect of Climate Change

A drying lake means there are artifacts to be found

Lake Mead
Lake Mead, seen from the air.
Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

Climate change doesn’t just mean radical shifts in temperature all over the world. It can also result in droughts — which can, in turn, cause storied bodies of water to become smaller and smaller. Lake Mead in Nevada is one such example. As of this year, the lake is at a historically low level, at only 30 percent of its capacity. This situation has prompted alarms for the regions nearby, which depend on the lake’s water.

As Lake Mead dries up, more and more of the lake bed has become exposed. That, in turn, has led to a number of things once at the bottom of the lake being revealed — including everything from human bodies to World War II-era boats. It’s brought people to the drying lake to see what else can be found there — an activity that sounds like something from a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie, but is in fact happening now.

A recent Washington Post article details what attracts people to this unexpected pursuit. As Joshua Partlow writes, people have found everything from designer sunglasses to firearms in Lake Mead. The article follows a pair of teachers looking for barrels containing treasure once owned by gangster Bugsy Siegel, which was rumored to be dumped in Lake Mead decades ago.

The article cites other intriguing things to be found — including plastic skeletons that also once called the lake bed home, and were left there by diving instructors. The past and the future often converge in unexpected ways, but the current state of Lake Mead offers an especially visceral example of how it can happen.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.