Attribution of global lake systems change to anthropogenic forcing


Lake ecosystems are jeopardized by the impacts of climate change on ice seasonality and water temperatures. Yet historical simulations have not been used to formally attribute changes in lake ice and temperature to anthropogenic drivers. In addition, future projections of these properties are limited to individual lakes or global simulations from single lake models. Here we uncover the human imprint on lakes worldwide using hindcasts and projections from five lake models. Reanalysed trends in lake temperature and ice cover in recent decades are extremely unlikely to be explained by pre-industrial climate variability alone. Ice-cover trends in reanalysis are consistent with lake model simulations under historical conditions, providing attribution of lake changes to anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, lake temperature, ice thickness and duration scale robustly with global mean air temperature across future climate scenarios (+0.9 °C °Cair–1, –0.033 m °Cair–1 and –9.7 d °Cair–1, respectively). These impacts would profoundly alter the functioning of lake ecosystems and the services they provide.

Nature Geoscience