, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 445-456,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 09 Jul 2010

Effects of climate change on thermal properties of lakes and reservoirs, and possible implications


Meteorologic-driven processes exert large and diverse impacts on lakes’ internal heating, cooling, and mixing. Thus, continued global warming and climate change will affect lakes’ thermal properties, dynamics, and ecosystem. The impact of climate change on Lake Tahoe (in the states of California and Nevada in the United States) is investigated here, as a case study of climate change effects on the physical processes occurring within a lake. In the Tahoe basin, air temperature data show upward trends and streamflow trends indicate earlier snowmelt. Precipitation in the basin is shifting from snow to rain, and the frequency of intense rainfall events is increasing. In-lake water temperature records of the past 38 years (1970–2007) show that Lake Tahoe is warming at an average rate of 0.013°C/year. The future trends of weather variables, such as air temperature, precipitation, longwave radiation, downward shortwave radiation, and wind speed are estimated from predictions of three General Circulation Models (GCMs) for the period 2001–2100. Future trends of weather variables of each GCM are found to be different to those of the other GCMs. A series of simulation years into the future (2000–2040) is established using streamflows and associated loadings, and meteorologic data sets for the period 1994–2004. Future simulation years and trends of weather variables are selected so that: (1) future simulated warming trend would be consistent with the observed warming trend (0.013°C/year); and (2) future mixing pattern frequency would closely match with the historical mixing pattern frequency. Results of 40-year simulations show that the lake continues to become warmer and more stable, and mixing is reduced. Continued warming in the Tahoe has important implications for efforts towards managing biodiversity and maintaining clarity of the lake.