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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.

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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to R. Iestyn Woolway.

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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.