Hydrology, Cryosphere & Earth Surface Research Spotlight

Lake Ice—and Ecosystems—in a Warming World

Extending ice records and standardizing sampling protocols are among recommendations to help researchers better predict how changing ice cover will affect aquatic ecosystems.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences


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Ice cover on freshwater lakes, even when only seasonally present, can strongly influence warming summer lake temperatures, algal growth, and nutrient availability. As effects of ice cover on inland aquatic ecosystems have become clearer, research into the biogeochemical and ecological processes that occur during winter has blossomed. But because of challenges inherent in winter fieldwork, these studies have not kept pace with the ecological changes associated with continuing decreases in seasonal ice duration.

In a new review, Sharma et al. highlight opportunities for scientists from different disciplines to collaborate and address fundamental gaps in scientific knowledge of lake ice dynamics, with the goal of accelerating progress toward understanding the effects of lake ice loss in warming regions.

The authors review the main drivers of lake ice cover as well as the four main methodologies currently used to investigate lake ice cover and associated physical and ecological processes. These methodologies include controlled ecosystem experiments, physical-based models, and in situ as well as remote sensing observations. Although each method has increased our understanding of lake ecosystems, integrating them would enhance current research capabilities, according to the authors. The team specifically recommends improving validation and calibration, extending current ice records, and developing statistical models to improve understanding of, and predict, winter lake processes.

To fully realize the potential of integrating these methods, scientists will need to work together to standardize sampling plans and protocols, seamlessly combine data derived from multiple sources, and embrace technological advances, according to the review. Improvements in data handling and other crucial skills will also help create a common language and an experienced workforce capable of tackling current and emerging challenges.

The rewards of taking these steps will be well worth the effort, the authors say: The changes could help researchers develop a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of lake ice as well as accurate forecasts of global lake ice cover and could help them better predict how changing winter conditions will affect lake ecosystem processes in a rapidly warming world. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JG005799, 2020)

—Terri Cook, Science Writer

Citation: Cook, T. (2020), Lake ice—and ecosystems—in a warming world, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO147630. Published on 13 August 2020.
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