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Lake levels are falling as temperatures rise

The climate crisis is not just causing sea levels to rise, but is also causing water levels in many lakes to fall. The consequences of shrinking lakes are just as serious as those associated with sea level rise, but are receiving far less attention.

Study lead author Dr. Matthias Prange is a senior research scientist in the MARUM Cen­ter for Mar­ine En­vir­on­mental Sci­ences at the Uni­versity of Bre­men.

“The Caspian Sea can be viewed as representative of many other lakes in the world. Many people are not even aware that an inland lake is dramatically shrinking due to climate change, as our models indicate,” said Dr. Prange. 

Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have failed to mention declining waters levels in lakes, and have disregarded the critical impacts of global warming on the affected regions. 

“This has to change. We need more studies and a better understanding of the consequences of global warming in this region.” 

According to the researchers, the goal must be to raise awareness of the consequences of climate change for inland seas and lakes so that appropriate strategies can be developed.

The Caspian Sea is the largest lake on the planet. It is referred to as a “sea” due to its large size and relatively high salinity. However, the lake’s largest inflow is the Volga River and it has no natural connection to the ocean. 

The water level of the Caspian Sea is determined by inflow, precipitation, and evaporation. Rising temperatures bring about an increase in evaporation, which causes the water level to decline.

The Caspian Sea is an important regional water reservoir, biological resources center, and commercial hub that is bordered by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia. The researchers report that the water level could fall by 9 to 18 meters during this century, depending on the extent of future global warming. 

“This would affect not only the biodiversity, various species, and habitats that would disappear. The economies of all the bordering countries would be impacted, including harbors, fisheries and fish farming.” 

The study authors propose that the Caspian Sea should be used as an example in scientific research to assess the vulnerability of certain regions to falling water levels. They also recommend the creation of a global task force to develop and coordinate mitigation strategies. 

The study is published in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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