Scientists warn that Earth’s lakes are warming faster, dropping global food and freshwater supplies

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Freshwater Lake
A general view of Lake Bunyonyi, a twisting 25-km (15.5-mile) long freshwater lake which lies in the far southwest of Uganda January 8, 2015. Reuters/Michael Turner

The Earth's lakes are warming faster than both the oceans and the atmosphere, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters on Dec 16. Scientists said that this might affect the quality of waters that people use for drinking, irrigating crops and producing energy.

Researchers analysed 235 lakes spread over six continents between 1985 and 2009. The results showed that lakes are warming at an average of 0.34 degrees Celsius every decade, compared to about 0.25 degrees Celsius and 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade for air and ocean surface temperatures, respectively.

"The message we're getting from our lakes is that they're getting more and more stressed," lead researcher Catherine O'Reilly said. "With these rates of warming, the problems we're seeing will become increasingly common."

Co-author Sapna Sharma said in a statement that ice-covered lakes, including Canadian lakes, are warming twice as fast as air temperatures and the North American Great Lakes are among the fastest warming lakes in the world. This can have profound effects on drinking water and the habitat of fish and other animals.

The researchers suggest that algal blooms will increase over the next century, robbing water of oxygen. At these rates, methane emissions, greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than CO2, will increase up to four percent over the next decade.

Sharma added that the study reveals the importance of identifying the impact of climate change in global freshwaters, to evaluate the sustainability of global food and freshwater supplies.  The study also recommends that everyone must anticipate and plan for the unavoidable impacts of change through long-term management strategies.

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