Ultra-sensitive Alpine lakes and climate change
AbstractGlobal warming is one of the major issues with which mankind is being confronted, having vital ecological and economic consequences. Ice-cover, snow-cover and water temperatures in alpine catchments are controlled by air temperatures, and so are very susceptible to shifts in climate. Local factors such as wind exposure, shading, and snow patches that persist during cold summers can, however, modify the sensitivities of the relationships to air temperature. Thermistors exposed in 45 mountain lakes of the central Austrian Alps (Niedere Tauern) measured water temperatures during 1998 – 2003 at two or four hourly intervals. Degree-day and exponential smoothing models tuned with this data suggest we can anticipate extremely large temperature rises in some of the Niedere Tauern lakes in the coming century. Lakes at around 1500 to 2000 m altitude are found to be ultra-sensitive as they lie in the elevation range where changes in both ice-cover and snow-cover duration will be particularly pronounced. In the more extreme cases, our impact models predict a summer-epilimnion water-temperature rise of over 10 degrees. One example of a lake most at risk to future climate change is Moaralmsee. This lake is located at 1825 m a.s.l. on the northern slopes of the Niedere Tauern; its water temperature is likely to rise by 12 degrees. The projected water discharge, ice-cover duration and water temperature changes for the Tauern catchments in the coming century far exceed the variations experienced at any stage during the last ten thousand years.
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