Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Climate regulates alpine lake ice cover phenology and aquatic ecosystem structure

May 11, 2016

High-elevation aquatic ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change, yet relatively few records are available to characterize shifts in ecosystem structure or their underlying mechanisms. Using a long-term dataset on seven alpine lakes (3126 to 3620 m) in Colorado, USA, we show that ice-off dates have shifted seven days earlier over the past 33 years and that spring weather conditions – especially snowfall – drive yearly variation in ice-off timing. In the most well-studied lake, earlier ice-off associated with increases in water residence times, thermal stratification, ion concentrations, dissolved nitrogen, pH, and chlorophyll-a. Mechanistically, low spring snowfall and warm temperatures reduce summer stream flow (increasing lake residence times) but enhance melting of glacial and permafrost ice (increasing lake solute inputs). The observed links among hydrological, chemical, and biological responses to climate factors highlight the potential for major shifts in the functioning of alpine lakes due to forecasted climate change.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Climate regulates alpine lake ice cover phenology and aquatic ecosystem structure
DOI 10.1002/2016GL069036
Authors Daniel L. Preston, Nel Caine, Diane M. McKnight, Mark W. Williams, Katherina Hell, Matthew P. Miller, Sarah J. Hart, Pieter T.J. Johnson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70170886
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Utah Water Science Center

Related Content