Climate change is taking an alarming toll on our planet’s large lakes. A recent study suggests that these lakes are shrinking at a much faster rate than previously estimated.
A new study published in Science reveals that large lakes worldwide have been receding due to climate change at thrice the rate previously thought. The comprehensive analysis, which looked at nearly 2,000 of the world’s largest lakes from 1992 to 2020, shows a 53 percent decline in water storage, attributable to climate change, human consumption, and increased evaporation.
Unprecedented Lake Shrinkage: A Global Perspective
This ground-breaking study meticulously analyzed 1,972 of the largest lakes worldwide, accounting for about 95 percent of global lake water. The researchers note that previous assessments may have underestimated the rate of lake water loss due to data gaps and overly narrow focus on certain types of lakes.
Climate Change, Consumption, and Evaporation: The Triad of Trouble
The research identified climate change, human consumption, and increased evaporation as the leading causes behind the lakes’ water loss. These factors accounted for approximately 47 to 65 percent of the losses, with warming being responsible for 36 percent.
Human Population at Risk
A significant portion of the global population resides in lake basins that are drying out, a fact that underscores the urgent need to consider climate change and sedimentation impacts when managing water resources. Notably, the study revealed a concerning “dry-get-drier” trend, extending even to traditionally humid regions.
Notable Case Studies: From Dead Sea to Salton Sea
The study’s findings align with previous research into human-caused impacts on bodies of water like the Dead Sea and Lake Urmia. More worryingly, they suggest similar losses for bodies such as Argentina’s Lake Mar Chiquita and California’s Salton Sea, which have previously gone undetected.
The insights offered by this study open up several research opportunities. Future work can focus on monitoring trends in water storage in both small and large lakes, studying the specific impacts of climate change on water resources in different regions, and exploring sustainable water management strategies that account for climate change and sedimentation impacts.