- Water temperatures in major European rivers have increased by 1–3 °C over the last century. Several time series show increasing lake and river temperatures all over Europe over the last 60 to 90 years.
- Lake and river surface water temperatures are projected to increase with further projected increases in air temperature.
- Increased temperature can result in marked changes in species composition and functioning of aquatic ecosystems.
What is the trend in the water temperature of rivers and lakes across Europe?
Water temperature of large European rivers and lakes
Note: Annual average water temperature in River Rhine and River Meuse (1911–2010); River Danube (1901–1998), Lake Võrtsjärv (1947–2011), and average water temperature in August in Lake Saimaa, Finland (1924–2011).
- Temperatuur oppervlaktewater, 1910 - 2010 provided by Compendium voor de Leefomgeving
The surface water temperatures of major rivers in Europe have increased by 1–3 °C over the last century. For example, the average temperature in the Rhine near Basel has risen by more than 2 °C in the last 50 years (Figure 1) [i]. The temperature of the downstream part of the Rhine increased by 3 °C between 1910 and 2010. Two thirds of the increase at the downstream Rhine is attributed to the increased use of cooling water and one third to the increase in air temperature as a result of climate change [ii]. A similar increase has been observed in the Meuse. The annual average temperature of the Danube increased by around by 1 °C during the last century. Increases in surface water temperature were also found in some large lakes. Lake Võrtsjärv in Estonia had a 0.7 °C increase between 1947 and 2011, and the summer (August) water temperature of Lake Saimaa, Finland increased more than 1 °C over the last century.
Several time series indicate a general trend of increasing water temperature in European rivers and lakes in the range of 0.05 to 0.8 °C per decade [iii]. The surface water temperature of some rivers and lakes in Switzerland has increased by more than 2 °C since 1950 [iv]. In the large lakes in the Alps the water temperature has generally increased by 0.1–0.3 °C per decade: Lake Maggiore and other large Italian lakes [v].
Lake surface water temperatures are projected to increase further, in parallel with the projected increases in air temperature. The exact amount of warming depends on the magnitude of global warming, on the region, on the season and on lake properties [vi]. Physical modelling studies predict that temperatures will increase more in the upper regions of the water column than in the lower regions, resulting in generally steeper vertical temperature gradients and enhanced thermal stability [vii]. Such increased lake thermal stability was observed both in Switzerland during the mild 2006/2007 winter [viii] and in Italy during the hot 2009 summer [ix].
[i] FOEN, „Indicator Water temperature of surface waters“ Federal Office for the Environment, 2011, http://www.bafu.admin.ch/umwelt/indikatoren/08605/08609/index.html?lang=en.
[ii] A.H.M. Bresser et al., The effects of climate change in the Netherlands (Bilthoven: Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency, 2006), http://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/rapporten/773001037.pdf.
[iii] M. Dabrowski, W. Marszelewski, and R. Skowron, „The trends and dependencies between air and water temperatures in lakes in northern Poland from 1961-2000“, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 8 (2004): 79–87, doi:10.5194/hess-8-79-2004; D.G. George and M.A. Hurley, „The influence of sampling frequency on the detection of long-term change in three lakes in the English Lake District“, Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 7 (2004): 1–14, doi:10.1080/14634980490281164; B. Pernaravièiûtë, „The impact of climate change on thermal regime of Lithuanian lakes“, Ekologija 2 (2004): 58–63; Bresser et al., The effects of climate change in the Netherlands.
[iv] BUWAL, Auswirkungen des Hitzesommers 2003 auf die Gewässer (Bern-Ittigen: Bundesamt für Umwelt, Wald and Landschaft: Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 369, 2004); R. E. Hari et al., „Consequences of climatic change for water temperature and brown trout populations in Alpine rivers and streams“, Global Change Biology 12 (2006): 10–26, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2005.001051.x.
[v] W. Ambrosetti and L. Barbanti, „Deep water warming in lakes: an indicator of climate change“, Journal of Limnology 58 (1999): 1–9; D. M. Livingstone, „Impact of secular climate change on the thermal structure of a large temperate central European lake“, Climatic Change 57 (2003): 205–225, doi:10.1023/a:1022119503144; O. Anneville, S. Gammeter, and D. Straile, „Phosphorus decrease and climate variability: mediators of synchrony in phytoplankton changes among European peri-alpine lakes“, Freshwater Biology 50 (2005): 1731–1746, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2427.2005.01429.x; M. T. Dokulil et al., „Twenty years of spatially coherent deepwater warming in lakes across Europe related to the North Atlantic Oscillation“, Limnology and Oceanography 51 (2006): 2787–2793, doi:10.4319/lo.2006.51.6.2787.
[vi] J. M. Malmaeus et al., „Lake phosphorus dynamics and climate warming: A mechanistic model approach“, Ecological Modelling 190 (2006): 1–14, doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2005.03.017; G. George, M. Hurley, and D. Hewitt, „The impact of climate change on the physical characteristics of the larger lakes in the English Lake District“, Freshwater Biology 52 (2007): 1647–1666, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2427.2007.01773.x.
[vii] F. Peeters et al., „Modeling 50 years of historical temperature profiles in a large central European lake“, Limnology and Oceanography 47 (2002): 186–197, doi:10.4319/lo.2002.47.1.0186.
[viii] J. Rempfer et al., „The effect of the exceptionally mild European winter of 2006-2007 on temperature and oxygen profiles in lakes in Switzerland: A foretaste of the future?“, Limnology and Oceanography 55 (2010): 2170–2180, doi:10.4319/lo.2010.55.5.2170.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Water temperatures in five selected European rivers and lakes in the 20th century
- degrees centigrade (⁰C)
Policy context and targets
Water temperature of rivers and lakes is one of the central parameters that determine the overall health of aquatic ecosystems because aquatic organisms have a specific range of temperatures that they can tolerate.
Information on change in water temperature is relevant in relation to the Water Framework Directive. See also WFD-CIS Guidance 24: Guidance No 24 - River Basin Management in a Changing Climate. http://circa.europa.eu/Public/irc/env/wfd/library?l=/framework_directive/guidance_documents/management_finalpdf/_EN_1.0_&a=i
Preparing for climate change is a major challenge for water management in Europe. Climate change is not explicitly included in the text of the Water Framework Directive. However, water management under the WFD will have to deal with the challenges posed by climate change (EEA, 2007). The stepwise and cyclical approach of the WFD River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) process makes it well suited to adaptively manage climate change impacts. In particular, the review of RBMPs every six years establishes a mechanism to prepare for and adapt to climate change.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Annual average water temperature in River Rhine and River Meuse (1911–2010); River Danube (1901–1998), Lake Võrtsjärv (1947–2011), and average water temperature in August in Lake Saimaa, Finland (1924–2011) are displayed.
Trend lines have been added.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
The attribution of water temperature increase to climate change is difficult as other effects like increased use of cooling water take place at the same time.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
DONAR (Historical water measurement data)
provided by Rijkswaterstaat
River Danube water temperature measurements
provided by University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)
Water temperature in Lake Võrtsjärv
provided by Estonian University of Life Sciences
Hydrology and Water Resources Management Data system
provided by Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)
Temperatuur oppervlaktewater, 1910 - 2010
provided by Compendium voor de Leefomgeving
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 019
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoPeter Kristensen
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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