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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-470
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-470
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 20 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 20 Sep 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Worldwide lake level trends and responses to background climate variation

Benjamin M. Kraemer1,3, Anton Seimon2, Rita Adrian1, and Peter B. McIntyre3,4 Benjamin M. Kraemer et al.
  • 1Ecosystem Research Department, IGB Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany
  • 2Department of Geography and Planning, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
  • 3Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI, USA
  • 4Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

Abstract. Lakes provide many important benefits to society including drinking water, flood attenuation, nutrition, and recreation. Anthropogenic environmental changes may affect these benefits by altering lake water levels. However, background climate oscillations such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the North Atlantic Oscillation can obscure long-term trends in water levels, creating uncertainty over the strength and ubiquity of anthropogenic effects on lakes. Here we account for the effects of background climate variation and test for long-term (1992–2019) trends in water levels in 117 globally-distributed large lakes using satellite altimetry data. On average, 27 % of water level variation in individual lakes was associated with background climate variation. The relative influence of specific axes of background climate variation on water levels varied substantially across and within regions. After removing the effects of background climate variation on water levels, long-term water level trend estimates were lower (+1.0 cm year−1) than calculated from raw water level data (+1.4 cm year−1). However, the trends became more statistically significant in 76 % of lakes after removing the effects of background climate variation (the median p-value of trends changed from 0.12 to 0.02). Thus, robust tests for long-term trends in lake water levels which may or may not be anthropogenic will require prior isolation and removal of the effects of background climate variation. Our findings suggest that background climate variation often masks long-term trends in environmental variables, but can be accounted for through more comprehensive statistical analyses.

Benjamin M. Kraemer et al.
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Benjamin M. Kraemer et al.
Data sets

GlobalLakeLevels B. M. Kraemer https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3363187

Model code and software

GlobalLakeLevels B. M. Kraemer https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3363187

Benjamin M. Kraemer et al.
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Short summary
Lake levels go up and down due to natural variability in the climate. But the effects of natural variability on lake levels can sometimes be confused for the influence of humans. Here we used long-term data from 117 globally distributed lakes and an advanced statistical approach to show that the effects of natural variability on lake levels can be disentangled from other effects leading to better estimates of long-term changes that may be partially caused by humans.
Lake levels go up and down due to natural variability in the climate. But the effects of natural...
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