Water temperature

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-202-en
Also known as: CLIM 019
Created 06 Dec 2016 Published 20 Dec 2016 Last modified 20 Dec 2016
10 min read
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 since the early 1900s. Lake and river surface water temperatures are projected to increase further with projected increases in air temperature. Increased water temperature can result in marked changes in species composition and functioning of aquatic ecosystems.

Key messages

  • 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 since the early 1900s.
  • Lake and river surface water temperatures are projected to increase further with projected increases in air temperature.
  • Increased water temperature can result in marked changes in species composition and functioning of aquatic ecosystems.

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

Trends in water temperature of large European rivers and lakes

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Past trends

The surface water temperatures of major rivers in Europe have increased by 1–3 °C over the last century (Figure 1). For example, the average temperature in the Rhine near Basel, Switzerland, has risen by more than 2 °C since the 1960s [i]. The temperature of the downstream part of the Rhine increased by nearly 3 °C between 1910 and 2013. A similar increase of 2.4 °C has been observed in the Meuse. Two-thirds of the increase of the downstream part of the Rhine is attributed to the increased use of cooling water and one-third is attributed to the increase in air temperature as a result of climate change [ii]. The annual average temperature of the Danube increased by around by 1 °C during the 20th century [iii].

Increases in surface water temperature were also found in lakes. Lake Võrtsjärv in Estonia had a 0.7 °C increase between 1947 and 2014, and the summer (August) water temperature of Lake Saimaa, Finland, increased by more than 1 °C over the last century (Figure 1). Many other 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, with some water bodies warming by more than 1 °C per decade [iv].

Projections

Inland 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 air temperature increase, on the region, on the season and on lake properties and river catchment.

An average increase in summer surface water temperature of 2 °C (1.2–2.9 °C) by 2050 has been estimated for 15 Austrian lakes, depending on the present thermal regime and geographical region [v]. A global study estimated that mean river water temperatures of major European rivers will increase by 1.6–2.1 °C during the 21st century (2071–2100 relative to 1971–2000, mean of a General circulation model (GCM) ensemble driven by IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A2 and B1 scenarios) [vi]. A detailed assessment for the Rhine gives an estimated increase in mean annual and August temperature in the range of 3.0–3.5 °C during the 21st century, due to climate change. The number of days with water temperatures above 25 °C, which is the threshold for significant stress to river fauna and flora, would increase at least five-fold (e.g. from 2–15 days in the reference period 2001–2010 to 32–75 days in 2071–2100) [vii].



[i] FOEN, ‘Indicator Water Temperature of Surface Waters’,Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, 2015, http://www.bafu.admin.ch/umwelt/indikatoren/08605/08609/index.html?lang=en.

[ii] CBS, PBL, and Wageningen UR, ‘Temperatuur oppervlaktewater’,Temperatuur oppervlaktewater, 1910-2013. (indicator 0566, versie 02, 3 juni 2014)., 2014, http://www.clo.nl/nl0566.

[iii] B. W. Webb and F. Nobilis, ‘Water Temperature Behaviour in the River Danube during the Twentieth Century’,Hydrobiologia 291, no. 2 (October 1994): 105–13, doi:10.1007/BF00044439.

[iv] Martin Dokulil, ‘Impact of Climate Warming on European Inland Waters’,Inland Waters 4, no. 1 (26 November 2013): 27–40; CBS, PBL, and Wageningen UR, ‘Temperatuur oppervlaktewater’; FOEN, ‘Indicator Water Temperature of Surface Waters’; Harriet G. Orr et al., ‘Detecting Changing River Temperatures in England and Wales’,Hydrological Processes 29, no. 5 (28 February 2015): 752–66, doi:10.1002/hyp.10181; Sapna Sharma et al., ‘A Global Database of Lake Surface Temperatures Collected by in Situ and Satellite Methods from 1985–2009’,Scientific Data 2 (17 March 2015): 150008, doi:10.1038/sdata.2015.8.

[v] Dokulil, ‘Impact of Climate Warming on European Inland Waters’.

[vi] Michelle T. H. van Vliet et al., ‘Global River Discharge and Water Temperature under Climate Change’,Global Environmental Change 23, no. 2 (April 2013): 450–64, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.11.002.

[vii] ICPR, ‘Estimation of the Effects of Climate Change Scenarios on Future Rhine Water Temperature Development. Extensive Version’, ICPR Report, (2014), http://www.iksr.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente_de/Taetigkeitsberichte/214_en.pdf.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Observed trends in water temperature of large European rivers and lakes

Units

  • degree Celsius (⁰C)

Policy context and targets

Context description

Preparing for climate change is a major challenge for water management in Europe, and information on changes in water temperature is relevant in relation to the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Climate change is not explicitly included in the text of the WFD, but water management under the WFD will have to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. 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.

In April 2013, the European Commission (EC) presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package. This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU Adaptation Strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe.

One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which will be achieved by bridging the knowledge gap and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the EC and the EEA to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies.

Further objectives include Promoting adaptation in key vulnerablesectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies and Promoting action by Member States. Most EU Member States have already adopted national adaptation strategies and many have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation. The EC also supports adaptation in cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.

In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.

Targets

No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources
    COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources /* COM/2012/0673 final */
  • Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • 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.
  • Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy
    EC (2000). Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy. OJ L327, 22.12.2000.
  • 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.

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Annual average water temperature in River Rhine and River Meuse (1911–2013); River Danube (1901–1998), Lake Võrtsjärv (1947–2014), and average water temperature in August in Lake Saimaa, Finland (1924–2014) are displayed. Trend lines have been added.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

The data originate from quality-controlled measurements with long time series. The attribution of an observed increase in water temperature increase to climate change depends on the location, because other effects like increased use of cooling water take place at the same time.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
,
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 019
Temporal coverage:
information.png Geographic coverage:

Geographical areas

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100