Satellites reveal widespread decline in global lake water storage.

Fangfang Yao, Ben Livneh, Balaji Rajagopalan, Jida Wang, Jean-François Crétaux, Yoshihide Wada, Muriel Berge-Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Climate change and human activities increasingly threaten lakes that store 87% of Earth's liquid surface fresh water. Yet, recent trends and drivers of lake volume change remain largely unknown globally. Here, we analyze the 1972 largest global lakes using three decades of satellite observations, climate data, and hydrologic models, finding statistically significant storage declines for 53% of these water bodies over the period 1992-2020. The net volume loss in natural lakes is largely attributable to climate warming, increasing evaporative demand, and human water consumption, whereas sedimentation dominates storage losses in reservoirs. We estimate that roughly one-quarter of the world's population resides in a basin of a drying lake, underscoring the necessity of incorporating climate change and sedimentation impacts into sustainable water resources management.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-749
Number of pages7
JournalScience (New York, N.Y.)
Issue number6646
StatePublished - May 18 2023

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-05-22
Acknowledgements: Funding: This study was supported by NOAA Cooperative Agreement with CIRES (NA17OAR4320101) to F.Y., NASA NIP grant (80NSSC18K0951) to B.L., and the “Climate Change Initiative Grant (4000125030/18/I-NB) to J.-F.C. and M.B.-N.” We thank A. Temme, C. Martin, S. Nerem, and J. Rosentreter for comments on the results and K. Yang and K. Bogan for suggestions and assistance on the visualizations. We thank P. Lin for sharing the latest version of the GRADES data and H. Beck for sharing the latest version of the MSWEP data for our analyses. Assistance for processing climate and human water use datasets was provided by K. Yang. We also thank L. Patterson for help with downloading the in situ data of reservoirs and L. Pitcher and E. Knight for proofreading our manuscript. We thank C. Schwatke, C. Birkett, and S. Cooley for making the altimetry-derived water level data publicly available.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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