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Lake heatwaves under climate change

Abstract

Lake ecosystems, and the organisms that live within them, are vulnerable to temperature change1,2,3,4,5, including the increased occurrence of thermal extremes6. However, very little is known about lake heatwaves—periods of extreme warm lake surface water temperature—and how they may change under global warming. Here we use satellite observations and a numerical model to investigate changes in lake heatwaves for hundreds of lakes worldwide from 1901 to 2099. We show that lake heatwaves will become hotter and longer by the end of the twenty-first century. For the high-greenhouse-gas-emission scenario (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5), the average intensity of lake heatwaves, defined relative to the historical period (1970 to 1999), will increase from 3.7 ± 0.1 to 5.4 ± 0.8 degrees Celsius and their average duration will increase dramatically from 7.7 ± 0.4 to 95.5 ± 35.3 days. In the low-greenhouse-gas-emission RCP 2.6 scenario, heatwave intensity and duration will increase to 4.0 ± 0.2 degrees Celsius and 27.0 ± 7.6 days, respectively. Surface heatwaves are longer-lasting but less intense in deeper lakes (up to 60 metres deep) than in shallower lakes during both historic and future periods. As lakes warm during the twenty-first century7,8, their heatwaves will begin to extend across multiple seasons, with some lakes reaching a permanent heatwave state. Lake heatwaves are likely to exacerbate the adverse effects of long-term warming in lakes and exert widespread influence on their physical structure and chemical properties. Lake heatwaves could alter species composition by pushing aquatic species and ecosystems to the limits of their resilience. This in turn could threaten lake biodiversity9 and the key ecological and economic benefits that lakes provide to society.

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Fig. 1: Historical and future projections of the intensity and duration of lake heatwaves.
Fig. 2: Historical and future projections of global lake heatwave strength.
Fig. 3: Seasonal variations in lake heatwave occurrence under historical and future climate change.
Fig. 4: Total heatwave duration and the emergence of a permanent heatwave state in lakes globally.

Data availability

The lake model source code is available to download from http://www.flake.igb-berlin.de/. Climate model projections (ISIMIP2b; date accessed: August 01, 2020) are available at https://www.isimip.org/protocol/#isimip2b. Satellite-derived lake surface temperatures used in this study are available from https://catalogue.ceda.ac.uk/uuid/76a29c5b55204b66a40308fc2ba9cdb3 (Globolakes; accessed 1 August 2020) and from https://catalogue.ceda.ac.uk/uuid/3c324bb4ee394d0d876fe2e1db217378 (ESA CCI; accessed 1 August 2020). Data for the light extinction coefficient used in this study are from the United States Environmental Protection Agency National Lakes Assessment (https://edg.epa.gov/metadata/catalog/search/resource/details.page?uuid=%7B668F7BE3-50D1-465C-A73D-B21625689159%7D) and the World Lake Database (http://wldb.ilec.or.jp/). All lake heatwave simulations, as well as a table of lake-specific information, are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4081165.

Code availability

The MATLAB code used to produce the figures in this paper are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4081165.

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Acknowledgements

R.I.W. received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement number 791812. We thank the GloboLakes project (NE/J021717/1) and the Hydroscape project (NE/N00597X/1), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom. We also thank the Copernicus Climate Change Service Hydrology, funded by the European Union, and the European Space Agency Climate Change Initiative project for the satellite data. We also acknowledge the International Lake Environment Committee Foundation (ILEC, http://www.ilec.or.jp/en/), which maintains the World Lake Database (http://wldb.ilec.or.jp/). The computations and data handling were enabled by resources provided by the Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing (SNIC) at Uppmax, partially funded by the Swedish Research Council through grant agreement number 2016-07213. T.S. was partially supported by German Research Foundation grants DFG KI 853/13-1 and CDZ 1259.

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Contributions

R.I.W. conceived the work, developed the concept of the study, performed the numerical modelling, completed the data analysis, and wrote the manuscript with input from S.C.M. All authors edited and revised the manuscript. T.S. performed the three-hour FLake simulations and led the light attenuation analysis, as used in the global simulations. E.J. performed the statistical analyses. M.G. and D.C.P. assisted with the large-scale computations and data handling.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Iestyn Woolway.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Thomas Froelicher, Ekaterina Kurzeneva, Victor Stepanenko and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Definitions and examples of lake heatwaves.

a, b, Examples of the method used to define a lake heatwave event (light orange) from lake surface temperatures (black) (a) and the categorization scheme used for defining the severity of lake heatwaves (b). Lake heatwave categories are defined according to multiples of the 90th percentile differences (1, 2, 3 and 4 times the threshold) relative to a 30-year (1970–1999) climatological mean (blue) and are described as Moderate (light orange), Strong (orange), Severe (red), or Extreme (dark red). Also shown are examples of historical lake heatwave intensity (c, d) and duration (e, f) in Lake Vättern (Sweden) (c, e) and Wörthersee (Austria) (d, f), where observational data are available from 1960 to 2017.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Specific characteristics of the studied lakes.

ac, Histograms of log10[surface area (km2)] (a), log10[average depth (m)] (b) and elevation (m) (c) of the lakes studied. dg, We also show, for illustration, the global distribution of lake thermal regions (d), their climatological seasonal cycle (e), a map of studied lakes categorized by thermal region (f), and the number of studied lakes (points) as well as the number of lakes globally (information from the Hydrolakes database21) situated within each lake thermal region (line) (g).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Validation of simulated lake temperatures and heatwave characteristics.

Comparison of modelled (mod) and satellite-observed (obs) (a, b) lake surface water temperatures for the studied lakes in which satellite data were available (\({R}_{{\rm{adj}}}^{2}\) = 0.97, P < 0.001); and lake heatwave duration (\({R}_{{\rm{adj}}}^{2}\) = 0.64, P < 0.001) (c, d) and intensity (\({R}_{{\rm{adj}}}^{2}\) = 0.5, P < 0.001) (e, f) for lakes with sufficient data to identify lake heatwaves from 2000 to 2005 (see Methods). Simulated results are based on the average simulations from the lake model driven by the four climate models. Abs, absolute; MAE, mean absolute error.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Relationship between average lake depth and average heatwave intensity.

For each lake thermal region, the relationship between log10[lake depth (m)] and the average intensity of lake heatwave events is shown for the historic period (averaged over all years from 1970 to 1999) and for the end of the twenty-first century (averaged over all years from 2070 to 2099) under RCP 2.6, RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5. The relationships between lake depth and the heatwave metrics (square, not significant: P > 0.001; circle, significant: P < 0.001) were calculated with a generalized additive model (see Methods).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Relationship between average lake depth and average heatwave duration from 1970 to 1999.

For each lake thermal region, the relationship between log10[lake depth (m)] and the average duration of lake heatwave events is shown for the historic period (averaged over all years from 1970 to 1999). The relationships between lake depth and the heatwave metrics (square, not significant: P > 0.001; circle, significant: P < 0.001) were calculated with a generalized additive model (see Methods).

Extended Data Fig. 6 Relationship between average lake depth and average heatwave duration from 2070 to 2099.

For each lake thermal region, the relationship between log10[mean lake depth (m)] and the average duration of lake heatwave events is shown for the end of the twenty-first century (averaged over all years from 2070 to 2099) under RCP 2.6, RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5. The relationships between lake depth and the heatwave metrics (square, not significant: P > 0.001; circle, significant: P < 0.001) were calculated with a generalized additive model (see Methods).

Extended Data Fig. 7 Relationship between average lake depth and total heatwave duration from 1970 to 1999.

For each lake thermal region, the relationship between log10[mean lake depth (m)] and the total duration of lake heatwave events per year is shown for the historic period (averaged over all years from 1970 to 1999). The relationships between lake depth and the heatwave metrics (square, not significant: P > 0.001; circle, significant: P < 0.001) were calculated with a generalized additive model (see Methods).

Extended Data Fig. 8 Relationship between average lake depth and total heatwave duration from 2070 to 2099.

For each lake thermal region, the relationship between log10[mean lake depth (m)] and the total duration of lake heatwave events per year is shown for the end of the twenty-first century (averaged over all years from 2070 to 2099) under RCP 2.6, RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5. The relationships between lake depth and the heatwave metrics (square, not significant: P > 0.001; circle, significant: P < 0.001) were calculated with a generalized additive model (see Methods).

Extended Data Fig. 9 Lake thermal responses to climate change.

Here we show the percentage of studied lakes which are projected to experience annual ice cover (a), and experience a permanent heatwave state (b) during the twenty-first century (RCP 8.5). In b, percentages are calculated relative to the number of lakes studied that are projected not to experience annual ice cover by 2070–2099. In c we show a temporally varying (1-year shifting window) 30-year climatological mean, with temperatures plotted as anomalies relative to the historical climatological mean (1970 to 1999). We also demonstrate the future projections of lake heatwave annual average intensity (d), annual average duration (e) and total duration (f) during the twenty-first century (RCP 8.5) calculated after linearly detrending the lake surface temperature anomalies. All results are based on the average simulations from the lake model driven by the four climate models; the shaded regions represent the standard deviation and the dashed lines represent the range across the lake-climate model ensembles.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Comparison of simulated lake heatwaves from two models of different temporal resolution.

Here we compare the simulated lake heatwave intensity (a) and duration (b) by the end of the twenty-first century (averaged over all years from 2070 to 2099) from the FLake model50,51 driven at a temporal resolution of 3 h and 24 h for three case study lakes. All results are based on the average simulations from the FLake model, driven by the four climate models.

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Woolway, R.I., Jennings, E., Shatwell, T. et al. Lake heatwaves under climate change. Nature 589, 402–407 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-03119-1

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