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Stronger winds over a large lake in response to weakening air-to-lake temperature gradient


The impacts of climate change on the world’s large lakes are a cause for concern1,2,3,4. For example, over the past decades, mean surface water temperatures in Lake Superior, North America, have warmed faster than air temperature during the thermally stratified summer season, because decreasing ice cover has led to increased heat input2,5. However, the effects of this change on large lakes have not been studied extensively6. Here we analyse observations from buoys and satellites as well as model reanalyses for Lake Superior, and find that increasing temperatures in both air and surface water, and a reduction in the temperature gradient between air and water are destabilizing the atmospheric surface layer above the lake. As a result, surface wind speeds above the lake are increasing by nearly 5% per decade, exceeding trends in wind speed over land. A numerical model of the lake circulation suggests that the increasing wind speeds lead to increases in current speeds, and long-term warming causes the surface mixed layer to shoal and the season of stratification to lengthen. We conclude that climate change will profoundly affect the biogeochemical cycles of large lakes, the mesoscale atmospheric circulation at lake–land boundaries and the transport of airborne pollutants in regions that are rich in lakes.

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Figure 1: Air and lake temperature from 1985 to 2008.
Figure 2: Increasing regional wind speeds.
Figure 3: Relationship of wind speed gradient to temperature gradient.
Figure 4: Trends in Lake Superior physical circulation.


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This work was supported by NSF Geosciences directorate Grant Nos 0628560 (A.R.D., V.B. and G.A.M.) and 0825633 (J.A.A.).

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Authors and Affiliations



A.R.D. developed the analysis framework, built the surface layer model, carried out the correlation analyses and wrote most of the manuscript. J.A.A. suggested the initial idea and analysed the buoy data. V.B. parameterized, ran and analysed the physical model of Lake Superior. G.A.M. designed the physical model framework and discussed lake biogeochemical implications. All authors discussed and revised the manuscript and figures.

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Correspondence to Ankur R. Desai.

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Desai, A., Austin, J., Bennington, V. et al. Stronger winds over a large lake in response to weakening air-to-lake temperature gradient. Nature Geosci 2, 855–858 (2009).

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