Lake Dillon's surface waters have warmed by 5 degrees over the last 35 years, twice the average warming rate for global lakes.
That's according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, which also found that Lake Dillon does not show adverse environmental changes despite the warming.
Lake Dillon is about 69 miles west of Denver near the town of Silverthorne and supplies water to the Denver area.
The researchers concluded in their multi-decadal study that the lake's high elevation explains the rapid warming and lack of ecological response.
"The explanation for the lake’s ecological stability lies in its low temperature, which serves as a buffer against ecological effects of warming," said William Lewis, director of CU Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).
Lewis and his colleagues began the Lake Dillon research, which involved collecting detailed information on the temperature, water quality and aquatic life, in 1981.
Lake Dillon is the highest lake studied for water column warming, and the study is the first to analyze warming in a reservoir rather than a natural lake.
“Reservoirs can differ fundamentally from other lakes in their response to warming because they often release water from the bottom as well as the top of the water column,” Lewis said. “They can warm not only from the top, in response to solar radiation reaching the surface, but also from the bottom, as tributaries subject to climatic warming replace cold bottom water with progressively warmer tributary water.”
According to Lewis, the study could have implications for Colorado's future water management practices.
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