Global lake evaporation accelerated by changes in surface energy allocation in a warmer climate

Wei Wang, Xuhui Lee, Wei Xiao, Shoudong Liu, Natalie Schultz, Yongwei Wang, Mi Zhang, Lei Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Lake evaporation is a sensitive indicator of the hydrological response to climate change. Variability in annual lake evaporation has been assumed to be controlled primarily by the incoming surface solar radiation. Here we report simulations with a numerical model of lake surface fluxes, with input data based on a high-emissions climate change scenario (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5). In our simulations, the global annual lake evaporation increases by 16% by the end of the century, despite little change in incoming solar radiation at the surface. We attribute about half of this projected increase to two effects: periods of ice cover are shorter in a warmer climate and the ratio of sensible to latent heat flux decreases, thus channelling more energy into evaporation. At low latitudes, annual lake evaporation is further enhanced because the lake surface warms more slowly than the air, leading to more long-wave radiation energy available for evaporation. We suggest that an analogous change in the ratio of sensible to latent heat fluxes in the open ocean can help to explain some of the spread among climate models in terms of their sensitivity of precipitation to warming. We conclude that an accurate prediction of the energy balance at the Earth's surface is crucial for evaluating the hydrological response to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-414
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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