Global Observatory of Lake Responses to Environmental Change (GloboLakes)

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Water Resources (Lancaster)


There are around 304 million lakes globally. These provide essential resources for human survival and are an important component of global biogeochemical cycles. Lakes are also fragile systems that are sensitive to multiple pressures including nutrient enrichment, climate change and hydrological modification, making them important 'sentinels' of environmental perturbation. However, traditional monitoring has only produced data from a tiny fraction of the global population of lakes and disentangling the causes of change requires consistently-produced data from a large number of lakes, along with measurements of possible causes of change. Satellite observations (remote sensing) and the establishment of a global lake observatory would produce a step-change in our ability to detect and attribute the causes of changes in lakes world-wide. This is now possible for three reasons: (1) the improved wavebands, spatial resolution and frequency of data collection from satellite sensors is now sufficient to monitor inland waters; (2) formulae to correct for atmospheric properties and to convert the detected reflected light to useful lake properties have been developed; and (3) computing power has increased to the point that allows near real time and archived information from satellites to be processed. GloboLakes will analyse 20 years of data from more than 1000 large lakes across the globe to determine 'what controls the differential sensitivity of lakes to environmental perturbation'. This is an ambitious project that is only possible by bringing together a consortium of scientists with complementary skills. These include expertise in remote sensing of freshwaters and processing large volumes of satellite images, collation and analysis of large-scale environmental data, environmental statistics and the assessment of data uncertainty, freshwater ecology and mechanisms of environmental change and the ability to produce lake models to forecast future lake conditions. The eight objectives of GloboLakes are to:
(i) develop remote sensing algorithms to estimate lake biogeochemical and physical parameters;
(ii) make these algorithms operational and process satellite data;
(iii) compile integrated spatio-temporal information on climatic and catchment data for >1000 lakes;
(iv) integrate data and assess uncertainty in data sources;
(v) detect spatial and temporal patterns in lake water quality;
(vi) attribute the causes of lake response to environmental conditions;
(vii) forecast lake sensitivity to environmental change;
(viii) apply data to lake management and the monitoring of freshwater resources.
The project will focus on the retrieval of surface water temperature as this has a fundamental effect on lake ecology, the concentration of coloured dissolved organic matter and suspended solids that derive largely from the catchment, the abundance of phytoplankton measured as the concentration of the pigment, chlorophyll a, and the abundance of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that can potentially be toxic. Knowledge of the conditions of lakes and their sensitivity to change is also extremely valuable for the management of lakes and reservoirs and GloboLakes will provide information and products specifically for environmental managers. A satellite due to be launched during the course of the project, called Sentinel 2, will provide even greater spatial resolution allowing data to be collected and exploited from even smaller lakes. This will be investigated by GloboLakes and incorporated into the framework of a global lake observatory.

Planned Impact

In the UK, the main direct beneficiaries of the project would be the UK environment agencies (EA, SEPA, NIEA) and water utilities who all have a statutory requirement to ensure safe surface waters for public recreation and water supply for drinking and irrigation. The UK environment agencies also have monitoring requirements for the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which include monitoring the frequency and severity of algal blooms. The operational platform to be developed could lead to significant economic benefits for these organisations as it would provide more frequent and much greater geographic coverage of monitoring at a lower cost. The main UK beneficiaries (all UK environment agencies and Scottish Water) have all been involved with the project team developing the research needs through a previous NERC research grant (NE/E009328) and through co-membership of the UK Technical Advisory Group for the Water Framework Directive. They have all indicated full engagement and support (time, logistics and data) for the proposed research and will form the core of the Project Advisory Board.

More indirectly, the project is of benefit to other organisations and individuals who manage public access to surface waters as it would lead to more rapid dissemination of water quality results and more accurate warnings of algal blooms and associated health risks to the public and livestock. This includes relevant National Park authorities (English Lake District, Loch Lomond & Trossachs, the Broads Authority) and health authorities.

Scientific benefits are described elsewhere under "Academic beneficiaries", but a key to wider dissemination is the commitment from international scientists within the remote sensing, water quality and limnology communities. This commitment is illustrated by the letters of support and include scientists across Europe, Africa, China, Australia and the USA.

Wider dissemination of the project and its finding will be achieved through a dedicated project website which will provide both non-technical information aimed at the general public as well as information for a scientific audience. More targetted dissemination will be supported by the Communications and Media Department at University of Stirling, working alongside those of the consortium partners. We anticipate regular publications in popular and peer-reviewed science press throughout the lifetime of the project. More specifically, we will target communication of the project results through regular project newsletters sent to key users with responsibilities or interests in monitoring the state of the environment (UK conservation agencies, relevant National Park authorities (English Lake District, Loch Lomond & Trossachs, the Broads Authority), the European Environment Agency and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

There are a number of additional end-users who will benefit from hearing the final outcomes of this project, including the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Scottish Government, Department for International Development, Department of Health - Global Health Programme, and international organisations including the WHO, UNESCO and a number of international aid charities. As the project progresses, with operational tools and results, we plan additional focused direct engagement with these organizations and will invite them to the final end-user workshop. Towards the end of the project, we will highlight the value of the platform and the science underpinning it at a global stage, through attendance in Stockholm at World Water Week. Similarly, as the tool becomes operational with validated results, we will publish an annual summary each year on World Water Day of the water status of 1000 global lakes.


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Maberly SC (2020) Global lake thermal regions shift under climate change. in Nature communications

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Woolway R (2020) Climate velocity in inland standing waters in Nature Climate Change

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Woolway RI (2021) Lake heatwaves under climate change. in Nature

Description We have established that large and small lakes can be mapped globally in terms of the seasonal dynamics of their surface water dynamics with clear latitudinal and elevation patterns. A paper has just been accepted in Nature Communications defining lake thermal regions and how they will shift under climate change.
We have produced a global map of lake water quality based on phytoplankton chlorophyll and related this statistically to lake, catchment and climate drivers.
We have analysed changes in seasonal patterns of phytoplankton chlorophyll for the largest lakes around the world.
We have applied an algal model at a global scale (2 degree grid), that identifies the sensitivity of lakes to latitudinal climate and nutrient load.
Papers are in production for each
Exploitation Route There is clear scope for this approach to be valuable for many other organisations and the data will be extremely valuable to the scientific community.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Energy,Environment

Description We have discussed use of the information for improved/ cheaper monitoring by the UK environmental regulators.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Description Cumbrian Lakes Research Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over 40 delegates from 15 organisations attended to hear about the research being carried out on Cumbrian lakes from NERC funded grants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Keynote presentation at international conference on large lakes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote presentation at international conference on large lakes at Evian, France. Highlighted new research opportunities using new technology including the remote sensing approach highlighted in this project. Led to discussion afterwards about pros and cons of this method.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation on lake research and monitoring to the U3A 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation for about an hour to the University of the Third Age group in Cockermouth explaining the different types of monitoring and research that we undertake.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Presentation to international conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference presentation of findings- lecture theatre completely full and very enthusiastic feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Talk at workshop with British Water 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation at a workshop organised and for British Water about the potential benefits of using new approaches, including remote sensing, for their business.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018