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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Widespread loss of lake ice around the Northern Hemisphere in a warming world

Authors:

Sapna Sharma

Kevin Blagrave

John Magnuson

Catherine O'Reilly

Samantha Oliver

Ryan Batt

Madeline Magee

Dietmar Straile

Gesa Weyhenmeyer

Luke Winslow

Iestyn Woolway

+6 more
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
2019
Secondary Title:
Nature Climate Change
ISSN:
1758-678X
DOI:
10.1038/s41558-018-0393-5
Pages:
227-231
Volume:
9
Year:
2019
Date:
Jan-03-2019

Abstract

Ice provides a range of ecosystem services—including fish harvest1, cultural traditions2, transportation3, recreation4 and regulation of the hydrological cycle5—to more than half of the world's 117 million lakes. One of the earliest observed impacts of climatic warming has been the loss of freshwater ice6, with corresponding climatic and ecological consequences7. However, while trends in ice cover phenology have been widely documented2,6,8,9, a comprehensive large-scale assessment of lake ice loss is absent. Here, using observations from 513 lakes around the Northern Hemisphere, we identify lakes vulnerable to ice-free winters. Our analyses reveal the importance of air temperature, lake depth, elevation and shoreline complexity in governing ice cover. We estimate that 14,800 lakes currently experience intermittent winter ice cover, increasing to 35,300 and 230,400 at 2 and 8 \textdegreeC, respectively, and impacting up to 394 and 656 million people. Our study illustrates that an extensive loss of lake ice will occur within the next generation, stressing the importance of climate mitigation strategies to preserve ecosystem structure and function, as well as local winter cultural heritage.