Lake ecosystem tipping points and climate feedbacks

Hessen, Dag O.; Andersen, Tom; Armstrong McKay, David; Kosten, Sarian; Meerhoff, Mariana; Pickard, Amy ORCID:; Spears, Bryan M. ORCID: 2023 Lake ecosystem tipping points and climate feedbacks. Earth System Dynamics Discussions, esd-2023-22. 34, pp. (Submitted)

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Lakes experience anthropogenically-forced changes that may initiate ecosystem feedbacks, in some cases reaching tipping points beyond which impacts become hard to reverse. Lakes are also important players in the global climate by ventilating a large share of terrestrial carbon back to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, and will likely provide substantial feedbacks to climate change. In this paper we address various major changes in lake ecosystems, and discuss if tipping points can be identified, predicted, or prevented in them, along with their associated feedbacks to climate change. Potential tipping dynamics assessed include eutrophication-driven anoxia and internal phosphorus-loading, increased loading of organic matter from terrestrial to lake ecosystems (lake “browning”), lake formation or disappearance in response to cryosphere shifts, switching from nitrogen to phosphorus limitation, salinization, and the spread of invasive species. We also address other types of abrupt, or threshold-type shifts in lakes and ponds, and conclude on which tipping points are locally or regionally relevant. We identify a key set of co-drivers that could lead to self-sustaining feedbacks, with warming, browning, and eutrophication leading to increased lake stratification, heterotrophy, and algal mass, which separately or collectively drive benthic oxygen depletion and in turn increased greenhouse gas emissions (helping to drive further warming and organic matter loading) and internal phosphorus-loading (driving further eutrophication). Several of these processes can feature tipping points, which further warming will likely make easier to reach. We argue that the full importance of the vulnerability of lakes to climate and other anthropogenic impacts, as well as their feedback to climate is not yet fully acknowledged, so there is a need both for science and communication in this regard.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Water Resources (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 2190-4995
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 09 Nov 2023 11:13 +0 (UTC)

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