, Volume 116, Issue 1, pp 71-95

The response of Lake Tahoe to climate change

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Abstract

Meteorology is the driving force for lake internal heating, cooling, mixing, and circulation. Thus continued global warming will affect the lake thermal properties, water level, internal nutrient loading, nutrient cycling, food-web characteristics, fish-habitat, aquatic ecosystem, and other important features of lake limnology. Using a 1-D numerical model—the Lake Clarity Model (LCM) —together with the down-scaled climatic data of the two emissions scenarios (B1 and A2) of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) Global Circulation Model, we found that Lake Tahoe will likely cease to mix to the bottom after about 2060 for A2 scenario, with an annual mixing depth of less than 200 m as the most common value. Deep mixing, which currently occurs on average every 3–4 years, will (under the GFDL B1 scenario) occur only four times during 2061 to 2098. When the lake fails to completely mix, the bottom waters are not replenished with dissolved oxygen and eventually dissolved oxygen at these depths will be depleted to zero. When this occurs, soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) and ammonium-nitrogen (both biostimulatory) are released from the deep sediments and contribute approximately 51 % and 14 % of the total SRP and dissolved inorganic nitrogen load, respectively. The lake model suggests that climate change will drive the lake surface level down below the natural rim after 2085 for the GFDL A2 but not the GFDL B1 scenario. The results indicate that continued climate changes could pose serious threats to the characteristics of the Lake that are most highly valued. Future water quality planning must take these results into account.

This article is part of a Special Issue on Climate Change and Water Resources in the Sierra Nevada edited by Robert Coats, Iris Stewart, and Constance Millar.