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Extreme Weather Event Triggers Cascade Towards Extreme Turbidity in a Clear-water Lake

Kasprzak, Peter, Shatwell, Tom, Gessner, Mark O., Gonsiorczyk, Thomas, Kirillin, Georgiy, Selmeczy, Géza, Padisák, Judit, Engelhardt, Christof
Ecosystems 2017 v.20 no.8 pp. 1407-1420
Cyanobacteria, algae, biomass, calcite, chlorophyll, ecosystems, euphotic zone, global warming, lakes, monitoring, pH, photosynthesis, primary productivity, risk, storms, turbidity, weather forecasting, wind speed, Germany
Climate forecasts project a global increase in extreme weather events, but information on the consequences for ecosystems is scarce. Of particular significance for lakes are severe storms that can influence biogeochemical processes and biological communities by disrupting the vertical thermal structure during periods of stratification. An exceptional storm passing over northern Germany in July 2011 provided an opportunity to assess the consequences and underlying mechanisms of such extreme events on the interplay between the physics and ecological characteristics of a deep, nutrient-poor lake. Wind speeds were among the most extreme on record. A suite of variables measured throughout the event consistently indicates that a cascade of processes pushed the clear-water lake into an exceptionally turbid state. Specifically, thermocline deepening by the storm-entrained cyanobacteria of a deep chlorophyll maximum located at about 8 m depth into the surface mixed layer. Released from light limitation, intense photosynthesis of the cyanobacteria boosted primary production, increased algal biomass, raised the pH and thus induced massive calcite precipitation to a level never observed within three decades of lake monitoring. As a consequence, water transparency dropped from 6.5 to 2.1 m, the minimum on record for 40 years, and the euphotic zone shrank by about 8 m for several weeks. These results show that cyanobacterial blooms not only are promoted by climate warming, but can also be triggered by extreme storms. Clear-water lakes developing a deep chlorophyll maximum appear to be particularly at risk in the future, if such events become more intense or frequent.