Water temperature

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CLIM 019
Created 11 Jul 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
5 min read
Note: new version is available!
Water temperatures in four selected European rivers and lakes in the 20th century

Update planned for November 2012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

Since water temperature is mainly determined by heat exchange with the atmosphere, higher air temperatures lead to higher water temperatures. Higher water temperatures, particularly in standing waters and low-flow situations in rivers, will bring about changes in the physico-chemical condition of water bodies with subsequent impacts on biological conditions. This may have severe consequences for ecosystem structure and function as well as for water use and ecosystem services.
Impacts of increased water temperatures may also include more stable vertical stratification of deep lakes and increased oxygen depletion in lake bottoms (stratification in other lakes may become less stable), more frequent harmful algal blooms, reduced habitats for cold-water aquatic species, and increased incidence of temperature-dependent diseases.
Human intervention can only help freshwater ecosystems to adapt to increasing water temperature in a limited way, for example by reducing the pressures from other human activities such as pollution by nutrients and hazardous substances and pressure from hydromorphological modifications. Such actions may make the water bodies less vulnerable to stress resulting from higher water temperature. Additional pollution load reduction measures may be needed in river basin management plans to obtain good ecological status, as required by the Water Framework Directive.

Scientific references

  • References Ambrosetti, W. and Barbanti, L., 1999. Deep water warming in lakes: an indicator of climate change. Journal of Limnology 58: 1-9. Anneville, O.; Gammeter, S. and Straile, D., 2005. Phosphorus decrease and climate variability: mediators of synchrony in phytoplankton changes among European peri-alpine lakes. Freshwater Biology 50: 1731- 1746. BUWAL, BWG, MeteoSchweiz, 2004. Auswirkungen des Hitzesommers 2003 auf die Gewässer.  Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 369. Bern-Ittigen: Bundesamt für Umwelt, Wald und Landschaft, 174 p. Dabrowski, M.; Marszelewski, W.; and Skowron, R., 2004. The trends and dependencies between air and water temperatures in lakes in northern Poland from 1961-2000. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 8: 79-87. Dokulil, M. T.; Jagsch, A.; George, G. D.; Anneville, O.; Jankowski, T.; Wahl, B.; Lenhart, B.; Blenckner, T. and Teubner, K., 2006. Twenty years of spatially coherent deepwater warming in lakes across Europe related to the North Atlantic Oscillation. Limnology and Oceanography 51: 2787-2793. Estonian Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, water temperature measurements, Võrtsjärv period 1947-2006 (non published). See also Nõges and Järvet, 2005. George G.; Hurley M. and Hewitt D., 2007. The impact of climate change on the physical characteristics of the larger lakes in the English Lake District. Freshwater Biology 52: 1647-1666. George, D. G. and Hurley, M. A., 2004. The influence of sampling frequency on the detection of long-term change in three lakes in the English Lake District. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management 7: 1-14. Hari, R. E.; Livingstone, D. M.; Siber, R.; Burkhardt-Holm, P. and Guttinger, H., 2006. Consequences of climatic change for water temperature and brown trout populations in Alpine rivers and streams. Global Change Biology 12: 10-26. Hohensinner, S.; Haidvogel, G.; Jungwirth, M., 2006. Natural landscape dynamics and human interferences: the Danube river landscape in the Austrian Machland 1715-1991. Rivers Run Through  Them. Landscapes in Environmental History. Annual Meeting of the American      Society for Environmental History, 29.3.-1.4.2006, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Livingstone, D. M., 1993. Lake oxygenation: Application of a one-box model with ice cover. Internationale Revue der Gesamten Hydrobiologie 78: 465-480. Malmaeus, J. M.; Blenckner, T.; Markensten, H. and Persson,  I., 2006. Lake phosphorus dynamics and climate warming: A mechanistic model approach. Ecological Modelling 190: 1-14. MNP, 2006. The effects of climate change in the Netherlands. (Bresser et al. (eds) Report from MNP available at http://www.mnp.nl/en/publications/2006/TheeffectsofclimatechangeintheNetherlands.html . PernaraviČiŪtĖ, B., 2004. The impact of climate change on thermal regime of Lithuanian lakes. Ekologija 2: 58-63. Rijkswaterstaat, measurements Rhine River at Lobith period 1908-2006 (unpublished). See also MNP, 2006.

Indicator definition

  • Water temperatures in four selected European rivers and lakes in the 20th century



Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question

Specific policy question

Newly created PolicyQuestion


Methodology for indicator calculation


Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty


Data sets uncertainty


Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen


Joint Research Centre (JRC)
European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 019
Version id: 1


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Sign up to receive our reports (print and/or electronic) and quarterly e-newsletter.
Follow us
Log in

Forgot your password?
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100