Worldwide alteration of lake mixing regimes in response to climate change


Lakes hold much of Earth’s accessible liquid freshwater, support biodiversity and provide key ecosystem services to people around the world. However, they are vulnerable to climate change, for example through shorter durations of ice cover, or through rising lake surface temperatures. Here we use a one-dimensional numerical lake model to assess climate change impacts on mixing regimes in 635 lakes worldwide. We run the lake model with input data from four state-of-the-art model projections of twenty-first-century climate under two emissions scenarios. Under the scenario with higher emissions (Representative Concentration Pathway 6.0), many lakes are projected to have reduced ice cover; about one-quarter of seasonally ice-covered lakes are projected to be permanently ice-free by 2080–2100. Surface waters are projected to warm, with a median warming across lakes of about 2.5 °C, and the most extreme warming about 5.5 °C. Our simulations suggest that around 100 of the studied lakes are projected to undergo changes in their mixing regimes. About one-quarter of these 100 lakes are currently classified as monomictic—undergoing one mixing event in most years— and will become permanently stratified systems. About one-sixth of these are currently dimictic—mixing twice per year—and will become monomictic. We conclude that many lakes will mix less frequently in response to climate change.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Global patterns in annual mean ice-cover duration, lake surface temperature and lake mixing regimes for the period 1995–2005.
Fig. 2: Global changes in annually averaged ice-cover duration and lake surface water temperature.
Fig. 3: Global changes in lake mixing regimes.

Code availability

The lake model source code is available to download from

Data availability

Satellite lake temperature data are available at Observed lake surface temperature data are available at Climate model projections are available at


  1. 1.

    Sharma, S. et al. Widespread loss of lake ice around the Northern Hemisphere in a warming world. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 227–231 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Magnuson, J. J. et al. Historical trends in lake and river ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere. Science 289, 1743–1746 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Fang, X. & Stefan, H. G. Simulations of climate effects on water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and ice and snow covers in lakes of the contiguous US under past and future climate scenarios. Limnol. Oceanogr. 54, 2359–2370 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Magee, M. R., Wu, C. H., Robertson, D. M., Lathrop, R. C. & Hamilton, D. P. Trends and abrupt changes in 104 years of ice cover and water temperature in a dimictic lake in response to air temperature, wind speed, and water clarity drivers. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 20, 1681–1702 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Schneider, P. & Hook, S. J. Space observations of inland water bodies show rapid surface warming since 1985. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L22405 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Magee, M. R. & Wu, C. H. Response of water temperatures and stratification to changing climate in three lakes with different morphometry. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 21, 6253–6274 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    O’Reilly, C. et al. Rapid and highly variable warming of lake surface waters around the globe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 10773–10781 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Austin, J. A., S. M. Colman. Lake Superior summer water temperatures are increasing more rapidly than regional temperatures: a positive ice-albedo feedback. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L06604 (2007).

  9. 9.

    Livingstone, D. M. Impact of secular climate change on the thermal structure of a large temperate central European lake. Climatic Change 57, 205–225 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    O’Reilly, C. et al. Climate change decreases aquatic ecosystem productivity of Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Nature 424, 766–768 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    O’Beirne, M. D. et al. Anthropogenic climate change has altered primary productivity in Lake Superior. Nat. Commun. 8, 15713 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    North, R. P. et al. Long-term changes in hypoxia and soluble reactive phosphorus in the hypolimnion of a large temperate lake: consequences of a climate regime shift. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 811–823 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Yankova, Y., Neuenschwander, S., Köster, O. & Posch, T. Abrupt stop of deep water turnover with lake warming: drastic consequences for algal primary producers. Sci. Rep. 7, 13770 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Boehrer, B. & Schultze, M. Stratification of lakes. Rev. Geophys. 46, RG2005 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Boehrer, B., von Rohden, C. & Schultze, M. in Ecology of Meromictic Lakes: Ecological Studies (Analysis and Synthesis) Vol. 228 (eds Gulati, R., Zadereev, E. & Degermendzhi, A.) Ch. 2 (Springer, Cham, 2017).

  16. 16.

    Lewis, W. M. Jr A revised classification of lakes based on mixing. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 40, 1779–1787 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Verpoorter, C. et al. A global inventory of lakes based on high-resolution satellite imagery. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 6396–6402 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Messager, M. L. et al. Estimating the volume and age of water stored in global lakes using a geo-statistical approach. Nat. Commun. 7, 13603 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Mironov, D. Parameterization of Lakes in Numerical Weather Prediction: Part 1. Description of a Lake Mode Technical Report No. 11 (COSMO, Deutscher Wetterdienst, 2008).

  21. 21.

    Mironov, D. et al. Implementation of the lake parameterisation scheme FLake into the numerical weather prediction model COSMO. Boreal Environ. Res. 15, 218–230 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Frieler, K. et al. Assessing the impacts of 1.5 °C global warming—simulation protocol of the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISIMIP2b). Geosci. Model Dev. 10, 4321–4345 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Regier, H. A., Holmes, J. A. & Pauly, D. Influence of temperature changes on aquatic ecosystems: an interpretation of empirical data. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 119, 374–389 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Mortimer, C. H. The exchange of dissolved substances between mud and water in lakes. J. Ecol. 29, 280–329 (1941).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Davison, W. Supply of iron and manganese to an anoxic lake basin. Nature 290, 241–243 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Weyhenmeyer, G. A., Westöö, A.-K. & Willén, E. Increasingly ice-free winters and their effects on water quality in Sweden’s largest lakes. Hydrobiologia 599, 111–118 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Weyhenmeyer, G. A., Bleckner, T. & Petterson, K. Changes of the plankton spring outburst related to the North Atlantic Oscillation. Limnol. Oceanogr. 44, 1788–1792 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Woolway, R. I., Meinson, P., Nöges, P., Jones, I. D. & Laas, A. Atmospheric stilling leads to prolonged thermal stratification in a large shallow polymictic lake. Climatic Change 141, 759–773 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Rosenberry, D. O. et al. Groundwater—the disregarded component in lake water and nutrient budgets. Part I: effects of groundwater on hydrology. Hydrol. Process. 29, 2895–2921 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Peter, H. & Sommaruga, R. Alpine glacier-fed turbid lakes are discontinuous cold polymictic rather than dimictic. Inland Waters 7, 45–54 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Kirillin, G., Shatwell, T. & Kasprzak, R. Consequences of thermal pollution from a nuclear plant on lake temperature and mixing regime. J. Hydrol. 496, 47–56 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Valerio, G., Pilotti, M., Barontini, S. & Leoni, B. Sensitivity of the multiannual thermal dynamics of a deep pre-alpine lake to climatic change. Hydrol. Process. 29, 767–779 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Rimmer, A., Gal, G., Opher, T., Lechinsky, Y. & Yacobi, Y. Z. Mechanisms of long-term variations in the thermal structure of a warm lake. Limnol. Oceanogr. 56, 974–988 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Shatwell, T., Adrian, R. & Kirillin, G. Planktonic events may cause polymictic-dimictic regime shifts in temperate lakes. Sci. Rep. 6, 24361 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Fee, E. J., Hecky, R. E., Kasian, S. E. M. & Cruikshank, D. R. Effects of lake size, water clarity, and climatic variability on mixing depths in Canadian Shield lakes. Limnol. Oceanogr. 41, 912–920 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Read, J. S. & Rose, K. C. Physical responses of small temperate lakes to variation in dissolved organic carbon concentrations. Limnol. Oceanogr. 58, 921–931 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Gorham, E. & Boyce, F. M. Influence of lake surface area and depth upon thermal stratification and the depth of the summer thermocline. J. Great Lakes Res. 15, 233–245 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Kainz, M. J., Ptacnik, R., Rasconi, S. & Hager, H. H. Irregular changes in lake surface water temperature and ice cover in subalpine Lake Lunz, Austria. Inland Waters 7, 27–33 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Ficker, H., Luger, M. & Gassner, H. From dimictic to monomictic: empirical evidence of thermal regime transitions in three deep alpine lakes in Austria induced by climate change. Freshwat. Biol. 62, 1335–1345 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    MacCallum, S. N. & Merchant, C. J. Surface water temperature observations of large lakes by optimal estimation. Can. J. Remote Sens. 38, 25–44 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Merchant, C. J., Harris, A. R., Maturi, E. & MacCallum, S. Probabilistic physically based cloud screening of satellite infrared imagery for operational sea surface temperature retrieval. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 131, 2735–2755 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Merchant, C. J., Le Borgne, P., Marsouin, A. & Roquet, H. Optimal estimation of sea surface temperature from split-window observations. Remote Sens. Environ. 112, 2469–2484 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Alvera-Azcárate, A., Barth, A., Rixen, M. & Beckers, J. M. Reconstruction of incomplete oceanographic data sets using empirical orthogonal functions: application to the Adriatic Sea surface temperature. Ocean Model. 9, 325–346 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Woolway, R. I. & Merchant, C. J. Intra-lake heterogeneity of lake thermal responses to climate change: a study of large Northern Hemisphere lakes. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 3087–3098 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Thiery, W. et al. The impact of the African Great Lakes on the regional climate. J. Clim. 28, 4061–4085 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Le Moigne, P. et al. Impact of lake surface temperatures simulated by the FLake scheme in the CNRM-CM5 climate model. Tellus A 68, 31274 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Verseghy, D. L. & MacKay, M. D. Offline implementation and evaluation of the Canadian small lake model with the Canadian land surface scheme over Western Canada. J. Hydrometeorol. 18, 1563–1582 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Layden, A., Merchant, C. J. & MacCallum, S. Global climatology of surface water temperatures of large lakes by remote sensing. Int. J. Climatol. 35, 4464–4479 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Stepanenko, V. M. et al. First steps of a lake model intercomparison project: lakeMIP. Boreal Environ. Res. 15, 191–202 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Balsamo, G. et al. On the contribution of lakes in predicting near-surface temperature in a global weather forecasting model. Tellus A 64, 15829 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Rooney, G. & Jones, I. D. Coupling the 1-D lake model FLake to the community land-surface model JULES. Boreal Environ. Res. 15, 501–512 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Kirillin, G. Modeling the impact of global warming on water temperature and seasonal mixing regimes in small temperate lakes. Boreal Environ. Res. 15, 279–293 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Thiery, W. et al. Understanding the performance of the FLake model over two African Great Lakes. Geosci. Model Dev. 7, 317–337 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Thiery, W. et al. Hazardous thunderstorm intensification over Lake Victoria. Nat. Commun. 7, 12786 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Bernhardt, J. et al. Lake ice phenology in Berlin-Brandenburg from 1947-2007: observations and model hindcasts. Climatic Change 112, 791–817 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Woolway, R. I. et al. Warming of central european lakes and their response to the 1980s climate regime shift. Climatic Change 142, 505–520 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Layden, A., MacCallum, S. N. & Merchant, C. J. Determining lake surface water temperatures worldwide using a tuned one-dimensional lake model (Flake, v1). Geosci. Model Dev. 9, 2167–2189 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Carrea, L., Embury, O. & Merchant, C. J. Datasets related to in-land water for limnology and remote sensing applications: Distance-to-land, distance-to-water, water-body identifier and lake-centre co-ordinates. Geosci. Data J. 2, 83–97 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Matulla, C. et al. Establishment of a long-term lake-surface temperature dataset within the European Alps extending back to 1880. Climatic Change (2018).

  60. 60.

    Woolway, R. I. et al. Diel surface temperature range scales with lake size. PLoS ONE 11, e0152466 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Sharma, S. et al. A global database of lake surface temperatures collected by in situ and satellite methods from 1985–2009. Sci. Data 2, 150008 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Benson, B. & Magnuson, J. J. Global Lake and River Ice Phenology Database v.1 (NSIDC, accessed 15 January 2018).

  63. 63.

    Stefan, H. G., Hondzo, M., Fang, X., Eaton, J. G. & McCormick, J. H. Simulated long-term temperature and dissolved oxygen characteristics of lakes in the north-central United States and associated fish habitat limits. Limnol. Oceanogr. 41, 1124–1135 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Read, J. S. et al. Simulating 2368 temperate lakes reveals weak coherence in stratification phenology. Ecol. Model. 291, 142–150 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Woolway, R. I., Maberly, S. C., Jones, I. D. & Feuchtmayr, H. A novel method for detecting the onset of thermal stratification in lakes from surface water measurements. Water Resour. Res. 50, 5131–5140 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Herdendorf, C. E. in Large Lakes: Ecological Structure and Function (eds Tilzer, M. M. & Serruya C.) 3–38 (Springer, Berlin, 1990).

  67. 67.

    Titze, D. J. & Austin, J. A. Winter thermal structure of Lake Superior. Limnol. Oceanogr. 59, 1336–1348 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Katsev, S. et al. in Ecology of Meromictic Lakes: Ecological Studies (Analysis and Synthesis) Vol. 228 (eds Gulati, R., Zadereev, E. & Degermendzhi, A.) Ch. 10 (Springer, Cham, 2017).

  69. 69.

    Syarki, M. T. & Tekanova, E. V. Seasonal primary productivity cycle in Lake Onega. Biol. Bull. 35, 536–540 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This analysis was funded by EUSTACE (EU Surface Temperature for All Corners of Earth) which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation, under Grant Agreement no 640171. The authors also acknowledge the European Space Agency funding of the ARC-Lake project. We thank M. Dokulil for providing lake temperature data for Mondsee and Wörthersee. RIW received funding from a European Union’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (No. 791812; INTEL project). This work benefited from participation in GLEON (Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network).

Author information




Both authors developed the concept of the study, designed the analytical experiments, interpreted the results and wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Iestyn Woolway.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures

Supplementary Table 1

Supplementary Table 1

Supplementary Table 2

Supplementary Table 2

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Woolway, R.I., Merchant, C.J. Worldwide alteration of lake mixing regimes in response to climate change. Nat. Geosci. 12, 271–276 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing