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Effects of simultaneous climate change and geomorphic evolution on thermal characteristics of a shallow Alaskan lake

January 1, 2011

We used a hydrodynamics model to assess the consequences of climate warming and contemporary geomorphic evolution for thermal conditions in a large, shallow Alaskan lake. We evaluated the effects of both known climate and landscape change, including rapid outlet erosion and migration of the principal inlet stream, over the past 50 yr as well as future scenarios of geomorphic restoration. Compared to effects of air temperature during the past 50 yr, lake thermal properties showed little sensitivity to substantial (~60%) loss of lake volume, as the lake maximum depth declined from 6 m to 4 m driven by outlet erosion. The direction and magnitude of future lake thermal responses will be driven largely by the extent of inlet stream migration when it occurs simultaneously with outlet erosion. Maintaining connectivity with inlet streams had substantial effects on buffering lake thermal responses to warming climate. Failing to account for changing rates and types of geomorphic processes under continuing climate change may misidentify the primary drivers of lake thermal responses and reduce our ability to understand the consequences for aquatic organisms.