Multi-decadal improvement in U.S. lake water clarity

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Simon Nemer Topp , Tamlin M. Pavelsky, Emily H. Stanley, Xiao Yang, Claire G. Griffin, Matthew R.V. Ross


Across the globe, recent work examining the state of freshwater resources paints an increasingly dire picture of degraded water quality. However, much of this work either focuses on a small subset of large waterbodies or uses in situ water quality datasets that contain biases in when and where sampling occurred. Using these unrepresentative samples limits our understanding of landscape level changes in aquatic systems. In lakes, overall water clarity provides a strong proxy for water quality because it responds to surrounding atmospheric and terrestrial processes. Here, we use satellite remote sensing of over 14,000 lakes to show that lake water clarity in the U.S. has increased by an average of 0.52 cm/yr since 1984. The largest increases occurred prior to 2000 in densely populated catchments and within smaller waterbodies. This is consistent with observed improvements in water quality in U.S. streams and lakes stemming from sweeping environmental reforms in the 1970s and 1980s that prioritized point-source pollution in largely urban areas. The comprehensive, long-term trends presented here emphasize the need for representative sampling of freshwater resources when examining macroscale trends and are consistent with the idea that extensive U.S. freshwater pollution abatement measures have been effective and enduring, at least for point-source pollution controls.



Biogeochemistry, Hydrology, Water Resource Management


remote sensing, Lake clarity, macroscale ecology, macroscale ecology


Published: 2020-12-18 07:07


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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