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Thermal regimes of Rocky Mountain lakes warm with climate change

July 10, 2017

Anthropogenic climate change is causing a wide range of stresses in aquatic ecosystems, primarily through warming thermal conditions. Lakes, in response to these changes, are experiencing increases in both summer temperatures and ice-free days. We used continuous records of lake surface temperature and air temperature to create statistical models of daily mean lake surface temperature to assess thermal changes in mountain lakes. These models were combined with downscaled climate projections to predict future thermal conditions for 27 high-elevation lakes in the southern Rocky Mountains. The models predict a 0.25°C·decade-1increase in mean annual lake surface temperature through the 2080s, which is greater than warming rates of streams in this region. Most striking is that on average, ice-free days are predicted to increase by 5.9 days ·decade-1, and summer mean lake surface temperature is predicted to increase by 0.47°C·decade-1. Both could profoundly alter the length of the growing season and potentially change the structure and function of mountain lake ecosystems. These results highlight the changes expected of mountain lakes and stress the importance of incorporating climate-related adaptive strategies in the development of resource management plans.

Publication Year 2017
Title Thermal regimes of Rocky Mountain lakes warm with climate change
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0179498
Authors James Roberts, Kurt D. Fausch, Travis S. Schmidt, David M. Walters
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70189301
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center