An expansion of a global data series that enables scientists to explore how the climate crisis impacts the world’s lakes has been released.

This new climate data record – which covers some 2000 lakes across the world – draws on information delivered by numerous international Earth observation missions. 

Development of the dataset was coordinated by ESA’s Climate Office, which is based at the agency’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications in the UK.

It was produced as part of ESA’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI), a programme that transforms satellite data into robust, long-term lobal datasets for key indicators of climate change known as essential climate variables.

Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria

Lakes have huge economic and environmental significance, supplying freshwater for human consumption, agriculture, and power generation, as well as hosting thriving ecosystems that support a diverse range of species. 

As well as being heavily impacted by the evolving environment, lakes play an important role in local and global climate regulation, by acting as heat sinks in the warmer summer months and heat sources during the winter, for instance.

As a result, understanding the behaviour of lakes is essential to facilitate sustainable water management, as well as climate change monitoring and mitigation efforts.

Through the CCI’s lakes project, remote sensing experts are continuously improving a data series that includes five key variables related to inland water bodies.

Extended global lakes dataset
Extended global lakes dataset

The newly released package details 2024 lakes across the world – a big increase on the 250 lakes included in the previous dataset – with the variables being available for the period of 1992-2020.

It includes information on lake water level, lake water extent, water surface temperature, lake ice cover and water-leaving reflectance, which can be used to derive key information such as seasonal phytoplankton growth.

The newly released dataset will help to ensure that satellite-derived information continues to make strong contributions to global assessments of climate change.

A global analysis of the effect of climate on lakes – which drew on data from the CCI’s lakes project – was recently included in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 2 report on impact, adaptation and vulnerability.

Lake Ontario temperature
Lake Ontario temperature

Clement Albergel, ESA Technical Officer for the CCI’s lakes project, said: “Satellite observations allow for a regional to global assessment of lake responses to a changing climate.

“The long-term and consistent records developed by the CCI harness the ESA Earth observation archives generated over the past 40 years, and combine them with data from both third-party and current missions, including the Copernicus Sentinel missions. Together these provide the empirical record to support climate science and inform effect climate action to address and build resilience to the negative consequences of climate change.”

The CCI’s lakes project is carried out by a consortium of 13 representatives from eight ESA member states.

-ESA also photos