Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 360–380

Changes in the thermal structure of moderate to large sized lakes in response to changes in air temperature

  • Dale M. Robertson
  • Robert A. Ragotzkie


Interannual variability in the thermal structure of lakes is driven by interannual differences in meteorological conditions. Dynamic or mechanistic models and empirical or statistical methods have been used to integrate the physical processes in lakes enabling the response of the thermal structure to changes in air temperature to be determined. Water temperature records for Lake Mendota, WI., are possibly the most extensive for any dimictic lake in the world and allowed both approaches to be used. Results from both techniques suggest the mixed layer temperature increases with increasing air temperature. Results from the empirical approach suggested epilimnion temperatures increase 0.5 to 1.0°C per 1.0°C increase in air temperature compared to 0.4 to 0.85°C estimated from a dynamical model (DYRESM). Increased air temperatures are related to significant warming in deep water temperatures in the absence of stratification; however, mid summer hypolimnion temperatures are expected to change very little or increase only slightly in response to climatic warming. Both approaches suggest increases in air temperatures increase the length of summer stratification; results from the dynamic model suggest an increase of approximately 5 days per 1°C increase in air temperature. Longer stratification is reflected in shallower late summer thermocline depths. With these quantitative relationships and forecast increases in air temperature for the 2 × CO2 climatic scenario (Greenhouse Effect) from three General Circulation Models, projections are made describing the changes in the future mean thermal structure of moderate to large sized lakes.

Key words

Climatic change water temperature stratification Lake Mendota 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dale M. Robertson
    • 1
  • Robert A. Ragotzkie
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Water ResearchUniversity of Western AustraliaNedlandsAustralia
  2. 2.Center for LimnologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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