DOI: 10.1002/lno.12498 ISSN: 0024-3590

Detecting climate‐related shifts in lakes: A review of the use of satellite Earth Observation

Elisa Calamita, J. Jelle Lever, Clement Albergel, R. Iestyn Woolway, Daniel Odermatt
  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


Climate change exerts a profound impact on lakes, eliciting responses that range from gradual to abrupt transitions. When reaching critical tipping points, the established lake dynamics stand to undergo substantial modifications, setting off a chain reaction that reverberates through the entire ecosystem. This lake shift ripples into related ecosystem services and even influences the well‐being of human communities. Despite the importance of lake shifts, we lack a systematic overview of their occurrence, mainly due to the lack of systematic data at the global scale. We reviewed the literature focusing on climate‐related lake shifts and assessed how satellite Earth Observation (EO) has contributed to the research topic, and what we can unlock from this novel data. Our results show that EO data are used in only 9% of studies on lake shifts, although this fraction has increased since 2012. EO data is most commonly used to assess shifts in surface extent, ice coverage, or phytoplankton phenology. These variables are directly observable and the spatio‐temporal resolution of EO satellites is of great advantage. But lake shifts can also be identified indirectly from EO data, as in the example of the vertical mixing of lake water, which can be described on the basis of surface patterns. In all possible applications, we expect increasing use of EO satellites in the future, including the development of early warning systems that promise to provide timely alerts regarding impending lake shifts, thus serving as a vanguard against abrupt alterations that could ripple through interconnected ecosystem services.

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