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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $14.08 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The lake model source code is available to download from http://www.flake.igb-berlin.de/.
Satellite lake temperature data are available at http://www.laketemp.net. Observed lake surface temperature data are available at https://portal.lternet.edu/nis/mapbrowse?packageid=knb-lter-ntl.10001.3. Climate model projections are available at https://www.isimip.org/protocol/#isimip2b.
Sharma, S. et al. Widespread loss of lake ice around the Northern Hemisphere in a warming world. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 227–231 (2019).
Magnuson, J. J. et al. Historical trends in lake and river ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere. Science 289, 1743–1746 (2000).
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).
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).
Schneider, P. & Hook, S. J. Space observations of inland water bodies show rapid surface warming since 1985. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L22405 (2010).
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).
O’Reilly, C. et al. Rapid and highly variable warming of lake surface waters around the globe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 10773–10781 (2015).
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).
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).
O’Reilly, C. et al. Climate change decreases aquatic ecosystem productivity of Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Nature 424, 766–768 (2003).
O’Beirne, M. D. et al. Anthropogenic climate change has altered primary productivity in Lake Superior. Nat. Commun. 8, 15713 (2017).
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).
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).
Boehrer, B. & Schultze, M. Stratification of lakes. Rev. Geophys. 46, RG2005 (2008).
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).
Lewis, W. M. Jr A revised classification of lakes based on mixing. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 40, 1779–1787 (1983).
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).
Verpoorter, C. et al. A global inventory of lakes based on high-resolution satellite imagery. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 6396–6402 (2014).
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).
Mironov, D. Parameterization of Lakes in Numerical Weather Prediction: Part 1. Description of a Lake Mode Technical Report No. 11 (COSMO, Deutscher Wetterdienst, 2008).
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).
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).
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).
Mortimer, C. H. The exchange of dissolved substances between mud and water in lakes. J. Ecol. 29, 280–329 (1941).
Davison, W. Supply of iron and manganese to an anoxic lake basin. Nature 290, 241–243 (1981).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Peter, H. & Sommaruga, R. Alpine glacier-fed turbid lakes are discontinuous cold polymictic rather than dimictic. Inland Waters 7, 45–54 (2017).
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).
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).
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).
Shatwell, T., Adrian, R. & Kirillin, G. Planktonic events may cause polymictic-dimictic regime shifts in temperate lakes. Sci. Rep. 6, 24361 (2016).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
MacCallum, S. N. & Merchant, C. J. Surface water temperature observations of large lakes by optimal estimation. Can. J. Remote Sens. 38, 25–44 (2012).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Thiery, W. et al. The impact of the African Great Lakes on the regional climate. J. Clim. 28, 4061–4085 (2015).
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).
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).
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).
Stepanenko, V. M. et al. First steps of a lake model intercomparison project: lakeMIP. Boreal Environ. Res. 15, 191–202 (2010).
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).
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).
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).
Thiery, W. et al. Understanding the performance of the FLake model over two African Great Lakes. Geosci. Model Dev. 7, 317–337 (2014).
Thiery, W. et al. Hazardous thunderstorm intensification over Lake Victoria. Nat. Commun. 7, 12786 (2016).
Bernhardt, J. et al. Lake ice phenology in Berlin-Brandenburg from 1947-2007: observations and model hindcasts. Climatic Change 112, 791–817 (2012).
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).
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).
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).
Matulla, C. et al. Establishment of a long-term lake-surface temperature dataset within the European Alps extending back to 1880. Climatic Change https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-018-4479-6 (2018).
Woolway, R. I. et al. Diel surface temperature range scales with lake size. PLoS ONE 11, e0152466 (2016).
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).
Benson, B. & Magnuson, J. J. Global Lake and River Ice Phenology Database v.1 (NSIDC, accessed 15 January 2018).
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).
Read, J. S. et al. Simulating 2368 temperate lakes reveals weak coherence in stratification phenology. Ecol. Model. 291, 142–150 (2014).
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).
Herdendorf, C. E. in Large Lakes: Ecological Structure and Function (eds Tilzer, M. M. & Serruya C.) 3–38 (Springer, Berlin, 1990).
Titze, D. J. & Austin, J. A. Winter thermal structure of Lake Superior. Limnol. Oceanogr. 59, 1336–1348 (2011).
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).
Syarki, M. T. & Tekanova, E. V. Seasonal primary productivity cycle in Lake Onega. Biol. Bull. 35, 536–540 (2008).
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).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0322-x
Linking Stoichiometric Organic Carbon–Nitrogen Relationships to planktonic Cyanobacteria and Subsurface Methane Maximum in Deep Freshwater Lakes
Journal of Lake Sciences (2020)
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences (2020)
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment (2020)