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GloboLakes Project

Status: ongoing
Publication State: published


Global Observatory of Lake Responses to Environmental Change (GloboLakes) was a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with the following grant references; NE/J023345/2, NE/J02211X/1, NE/J023396/1, NE/J021717/1 and NE/J022810/1. These grants were led by Professor Christopher Merchant, Dr Mark Cutler, Mr Stephen Groom, Professor Stephen Maberly and Dr Claire Miller respectively.

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 analysed 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 was an ambitious project that was only possible by bringing together a consortium of scientists with complementary skills. These included 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 were 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 focused 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 provided information and products specifically for environmental managers.

A satellite launched during the course of the project, called Sentinel 2, provided even greater spatial resolution allowing data to be collected and exploited from even smaller lakes. This was investigated by GloboLakes and incorporated into the framework of a global lake observatory.

Abbreviation: Not defined
Keywords: limnology, lake, freshwater, satellite, environmental change, surface water temperature