Indicator Specification

Water temperature

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CLIM 019
Published 20 Nov 2012 Last modified 20 Dec 2016
6 min read
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

Go to latest version
This page was archived on 20 Dec 2016 with reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/water-temperature-2 was published)
Water temperatures in five selected European rivers and lakes in the 20th century

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


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 . 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 five selected European rivers and lakes in the 20th century


  • degrees centigrade (⁰C)

Policy context and targets

Context description

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.

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 in the future. This web portal 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 enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.

Key policy question

What is the trend in the water temperature of rivers and lakes across Europe?



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

Not applicable

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

Not applicable

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 (

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


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 019
Version id: 2

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


Document Actions