Climate change causes earlier spring and longer summers in lakes

A recent comprehensive analysis of lake temperatures provides further confirmation of the seasonal alterations caused by climate change. The study, published in Nature Communications, utilizes historical and modeled lake temperature data to examine the timing of typical spring and autumn conditions across lakes worldwide. The research reveals the extent of seasonal shifts in different regions and offers projections for future changes.

Since 1980, lakes in the Northern Hemisphere have experienced earlier arrival of spring (2.0 days per decade) and summer (4.3 days per decade), along with delayed autumn onset (1.5 days per decade) and an extended summer season (5.6 days per decade). Under a high greenhouse gas emission scenario, the research predicts even earlier spring (3.3 days per decade), further advanced summer temperatures (8.3 days per decade), delayed autumn temperatures (3.1 days per decade), and a prolonged summer season (12.1 days per decade) in this century.

While the idea of an early spring and long, warm summer may seem appealing, such changes have profound implications for the natural world. Aquatic species within lakes rely on thermal cues influenced by lake temperature. In a stable climate, seasonal events like spawning occur simultaneously with other events, creating a synchrony that sustains ecosystems and provides food sources.

Dr. Iestyn Woolway, an expert from Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, spearheads this research and has developed a novel methodology to investigate seasonal shifts in lakes worldwide. While similar studies exist for air temperatures and oceans, this is the first to examine the crucial freshwater bodies that support the environment and human needs.

The study places particular focus on the Great Lakes in North America, which have significant impacts on large human populations and even influence the U.S. economy. Satellite data readily captures detailed information about these vast water bodies. Smaller lakes, such as Windermere or Llyn Tegid in the U.K., lack similar satellite monitoring capabilities and are included in the study through local-scale simulations.

Interest in understanding how lakes respond to climate change has surged in recent years. While previous studies primarily examined temperature changes in individual lakes or average conditions across a limited number of lakes, this research employs much larger and diverse datasets. Woolway aims to construct a global overview (excluding frozen lakes) of fine-scale patterns in lake responses to climate change. By integrating evidence from various satellite data sources and employing large ensemble simulations, the study seeks to overcome uncertainties and limitations inherent in single models.

In summary, this groundbreaking research sheds light on the far-reaching consequences of climate change on lake temperatures and their associated ecosystems. By expanding our understanding of seasonal shifts in lakes worldwide, it provides crucial insights into how climate change impacts these vital freshwater resources.

Source: Bangor University

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