Effects of climate change on lake thermal structure and biotic response in northern wilderness lakes

Mark B. Edlund, James E. Almendinger, Xing Fang, Joy M.Ramstack Hobbs, David D. VanderMeulen, Rebecca L. Key, Daniel R. Engstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Climate disrupts aquatic ecosystems directly through changes in temperature, wind, and precipitation, and indirectly through watershed effects. Climate-induced changes in northern lakes include longer ice-free season, stronger stratification, browning, shifts in algae, and more cyanobacterial blooms. We compared retrospective temperature-depth relationships modeled using MINLAKE2012 with biogeochemical changes recorded in sediment cores. Four lakes in Voyageurs National Park (VOYA) and four lakes in Isle Royale National Park (ISRO) were studied. Meteorological data from International Falls and Duluth, Minnesota, were used for VOYA and ISRO, respectively. Model output was processed to analyze epilimnetic and hypolimnetic water temperatures and thermal gradients between two periods (1962-1986, 1987-2011). Common trends were increased summer epilimnion temperatures and, for deep lakes, increased frequency and duration of thermoclines. Changes in diatom communities differed between shallow and deep lakes and the parks. Based on changes in benthic and tychoplanktonic communities, shallow lake diatoms respond to temperature, mixing events, pH, and habitat. Changes in deep lakes are evident in the deep chlorophyll layer community of Cyclotella and Discostella species, mirroring modeled changes in thermocline depth and stability, and in Asterionella and Fragilaria species, reflecting the indirect effects of in-lake and watershed nutrient cycling and spring mixing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number678
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 7 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: We thank the National Park Service Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network and especially Joan Elias for project management and providing funding under Cooperative Agreement H6000C02000. We thank Adam Heathcote and Will Hobbs for statistical analyses, Norman Andresen for diatom analysis, Jasmine Saros and Kristin Strock (University of Maine) for access to Siskiwit Lake core material and data, Erin Mortenson, Erin Mittag, Alaina Fedie, and Jill Coleman Wasik for geochemistry and core dating analysis, and Rick Damstra, Ulf Gavfert, and Mark Hart for providing supporting data.


  • Carbon burial
  • Diatoms
  • Lake modeling
  • Paleolimnology
  • Thermocline


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