About Us

Convict lake
Convict Lake


The Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL) was established in 1935 by the US Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife as the Convict Creek Experiment Station. The goal of the station was to study the success of hatchery trout in a native stream. Acquired by UCSB in 1973, the site now serves as a base for research and teaching in eastern and central California and western Nevada. With some of the most developed facilities in the UC Natural Reserve System and a considerable outreach program, SNARL is UC’s outpost in eastern California, a region of the state with no university campuses.

The 55-acre SNARL site is an ideal base for field research throughout the eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley. A former US Fish and Wildlife Research station since 1935, the facilities at SNARL were transferred to the University in 1973. SNARL provides a modern laboratory, which includes a molecular diagnostics facility, and experimental stream complex that promotes and encourages scientific research all year long. SNARL lies immediately at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, along the borderline that separates the montane environment of the Sierra from the arid Great Basin Desert to the east. The flora of SNARL includes species characteristic of mesic mountain habitats as well as xeric desert sites.

Convict Creek provides a perennial water supply that contributes to SNARL’s habitat diversity. Three major types of vegetation occur on the relatively uniform terrain found at SNARL. Each is characterized by floristic composition and accompanying physical features, including soil type, exposure, and water availability. The three vegetation types found at SNARL are: 1) Great Basin Sagebrush Vegetation 2) High Desert Riparian Woodland 3) Riparian Meadow Vegetation.


The reserve has overnight facilities for 45 people in the form of a dormitory, a three-bedroom house (Q8), a two-bedroom house (Q1), and 2 one-bedroom cottages (Q2 and Q3). Each unit has bunks, a kitchen with pots, pans, and dishes, and restroom facilities. There is no food or custodial service. Users are expected to furnish their own food, bedding, towels, vehicles, and equipment. Housing is assigned at the discretion of the Director. See the site map and building photos for more detail.

The reserve has over 6,000 sq. ft. of lab and office space. There are wet labs, dry labs, a radioisotope lab, controlled-environment chambers, and shared laboratory equipment. More details about our laboratory facilities can be found on our laboratory orientation page. Broadband Internet is linked by fiber optic cables and can be accessed across much of the Reserve.  There is ample office space, a conference room, and new classroom/lecture hall that seats 120.

Special features

Perennial Convict Creek flows through the reserve. The creek is divided into channels for manipulative studies. In addition, a diversion supplies water to a set of nine artificial streams, each 1 m x 50 m long. The reserve provides easy access to the high Sierra Nevada, Mono Lake, Long Valley, Owens Valley, Yosemite National Park, and the Great Basin.


The reserve protects examples of Great Basin sagebrush, riparian woodland, and riparian meadow communities. Protected from entry and grazing for many years, these communities are in excellent condition. Non-aquatic research is permitted and encouraged.


Long-term flow and temperature records for Convict Creek; climate data; maps; bibliography of on-site research; synoptic collections; complete flora; selected species lists; aerial photos.


On-site staff reserve director, stewards, staff scientists, research assistants.

NRS Publications

Reserve Facts

  • Administering Campus: UC Santa Barbara
  • Established: 1973
  • Location
    Mono County, on eastern slope of Sierra Nevada; 13 km (8 mi) east of Mammoth Lakes just off U.S. Highway 395 on Mt. Morrison Road; 290 km (180 mi) south of Reno, NV
  • Size 22 ha (55 acres)
  • Elevation
    2,149 to 2169 m (7,052 to 7,116 ft)
  • Average Precipitation
    25 to 38 cm (10 to 15 in)/yr, most as snow. Snow depth in winter ranges from 1 to 2 m (3 to 6 ft)
  • Average Temperatures
    Summer: 0° to 29°C (32° to 84°F)
    Winter: -23° to 11°C (-10° to 52°F)
  • Personnel
    On-site staff reserve manager, steward, environmental monitoring specialist, education coordinator.