19/10/2021 903 views 46 likes
While the climate crisis is, unfortunately, a reality, it is all too easy to assume that every aspect of our changing world is a consequence of climate change. Assumptions play no role in key environmental assessments and mitigation strategies such as we will see in the upcoming UN climate change COP-26 conference – it’s the science and hard facts that are critical. This week’s new research is a prime example that facts matter. This latest research, which combines satellite data from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative with model projections, shows that global temperature rises and lake-ice covers are only possible because of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Humans are therefore clearly to blame.
According to the paper published in Nature Geoscience, the influence of human-induced climate change is evident in rising lake-water temperatures and the fact that lake ice-cover forms later and melts sooner.
Luke Grant, from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and lead author, said, “These physical properties are fundamental to lake ecosystems. We risk causing severe damage to lake ecosystems as the impacts of climate change continue to rise in the future. This could also impact water quality and native fish species populations. This would be disastrous for the many ways in which local communities depend on lakes, such as drinking water supply and fishing.”
The research team also predicted how things are likely to develop in the future under different warming scenarios.
The graph above shows that in a low-emission scenario, the average warming of lakes is estimated to stabilise at 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels and the duration of ice cover to be 14 days shorter. In a high-emission world, these changes could lead lake temperature to increase by 4.0 degC and have 46 fewer days of ice per year.
At the beginning of the project, the authors observed changes in lakes around the world, as depicted in the image of Lake Ontario, based on satellite-derived observations from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative lakes project.
However, the role of climate change in these trends had not yet been demonstrated.
“In other terms, we had to exclude the possibility that these changes could have been caused by natural variability in the climate system,” Inne Vanderkelen, a fellow VUB researcher and co-author of the study.
The team developed several computer simulations that included models of lakes at a global scale. They then ran a number of climate models. After they had built this database, the team applied the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s methodology. They also analysed future climate scenarios after assessing the historical impacts of climate change on lakes.
The results indicate that it is unlikely that recent trends in lake temperatures or ice cover can be explained by natural climate variability.
Moreover, the researchers found clear similarities between the observed changes in lakes and model simulations of lakes in a climate influenced by greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is clear evidence that human-induced climate change has an impact on lakes,” says Iestyn Woolway, former ESA Fellow and co-author of the study.
Projections of lake temperatures and ice cover unanimously indicate increasing trends for the future.
For every 1degC rise in global air temperatures, lakes will warm by 0.9degC while losing 9.7 days of ice. The analysis also revealed that there are significant differences in how climate change will affect lakes at the end the century.
“Our results underline the great importance of the Paris Agreement to protect the health of lakes around the world,” said Wim Thiery, VUB climate expert and senior author of the study. “If we manage to drastically reduce our emissions in the coming decades, we can still avoid the worst consequences for lakes worldwide.”
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