Global Warming Impacting Lakes Worldwide

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Global warming is real and it is getting worse every day. Despite the rosy headlines coming from the recent, “successful” global climate conference, the planet continues to get warmer each and every day due to human activities. The baby steps agreed to at the conference are important first steps, but they must be followed up with more and stronger actions to reduce carbon in the near future or our grandchildren will curse us every day as they deal with the disastrous global warming legacy we left them.

New research offers further proof of the consequences of global warming. This new study of temperature change in global lakes is the largest ever, and the first to use both satellite temperature data and long-term ground measurements.

The study involved monitoring 235 lakes (over half of the world’s freshwater supply) on six different continents for 25 years. The data showed that lakes are warming by an average of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit (0.34 degrees Celsius) every decade. That is notably faster than the warming rate of the oceans or the atmosphere, and it is already leading to serious effects on lake ecosystems.

The research was published in the most recent edition of Geophysical Research Letters, and was presented Thursday at the American Geophysical Union meeting. The study was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Results from the study of global lakes

The data from the new lakes study also showed that temperature increases at or above the average .61 degrees F rise were observed in well-known and frequently used lakes all across the globe, including Lake Tahoe (+.97 F by hand, +1.28 by satellite), the Dead Sea (+1.13 F), two reservoirs near to New York City, Seattle’s Lake Washington (+.49 F), and the Great Lakes Huron (+1.53 F by hand, +.79 by satellite), Michigan (+.76 F by hand, +.36  by satellite), Ontario (+.59 F) and Superior (+2.09 F by hand measurement, +1.44 F by satellite).

The researchers point out that the temperature of lake water has a major impact on the health and viability of ecosystems. When temperatures warm up (or cool down) quickly, the life forms living in a lake can change rapidly or even disappear.

Warm-water, tropical lakes may be seeing less dramatic temperature increases, but increased warming of these lakes can still have large negative impacts on fish. That can be particularly important in the African Great Lakes, where fish is an important source of food.

Furthermore, algal blooms (which remove oxygen from water and can lead to fish die offs), are anticipated to increase by 20% in lakes over the next 100 years as lake waters continue to grow warmer. Species of algal blooms toxic to fish and animals are modeled to increase by at least 5%. If this rate of global warming of lakes continue, dangerous emissions of methane will surge by at least 4% over the next decade, leading to further global warming feedback effects and more rapid climate change.

Statements from authors of new global warming study on lakes

“Society depends on surface water for the vast majority of human uses,” explained co-author Stephanie Hampton, the director of Washington State University’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach. “Not just for drinking water, but manufacturing, for energy production, for irrigation of our crops. Protein from freshwater fish is especially important in the developing world.”

“These results suggest that large changes in our lakes are not only unavoidable, but are probably already happening,” noted lead author Catherine O’Reilly, an associate professor of geology at Illinois State University,

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