When we talk about global warming, the number that everyone usually focuses on is that of the atmosphere, though the world's oceans also are absorbing heat as well. Now, it turns out, lakes may be faring even worse.
According to a new study, climate change is warming lakes even faster than the atmosphere or oceans, and it could pose a significant future threat to the habitats for fish and other aquatic animals, as well as drinking water for millions of people.
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The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, shows that lakes are warming at an average of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit each decade.
Over the next century, it could be enough to increase algal blooms by 20 percent, including a 5 percent boost in toxic blooms. That may not seem like a lot, but it's enough to present a hazard to both aquatic life and to the cleanliness of water supplies.
"We found that ice–covered lakes, including Canadian lakes, are warming twice as fast as air temperatures and the North American Great Lakes are among the fastest warming lakes in the world," biologist Sapna Sharma, a biologist at Canada's York University, said in a press release.
The study focused upon 236 lakes, which contain more than half of the world's freshwater supply. They were monitored over a 25-year period.
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The study is the first to combine manual lake measurements - made by thousands of scientists over more than a century - with satellite measurements of lake temperatures collected by NASA over a quarter century.
Water temperature influences a host of its other factors that are critical to the health and viability of ecosystems. When the numbers swing quickly and widely from the norm, life forms in a lake can change dramatically and even disappear.
"These results suggest that large changes in our lakes are not only unavoidable, but are probably already happening," the study's lead author Catherine O'Reilly, associate professor of geology at Illinois State University, said in a NASA press release.