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Zachary W. Taebel
David E. Reed
, and
Ankur R. Desai


The physical processes of heat exchange between lakes and the surrounding atmosphere are important in simulating and predicting terrestrial surface energy balance. Latent and sensible heat fluxes are the dominant physical process controlling ice growth and decay on the lake surface, as well as having influence on regional climate. While one-dimensional lake models have been used in simulating environmental changes in ice dynamics and water temperature, understanding the seasonal to daily cycles of lake surface energy balance and its relationship to lake thermal properties, atmospheric conditions, and how those are represented in models is still an open area of research. We evaluated a pair of one-dimensional lake models, Freshwater Lake (FLake) and the General Lake Model (GLM), to compare modeled latent and sensible heat fluxes against observed data collected by an eddy covariance tower during a 1-yr period in 2017, using Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, as our study site. We hypothesized transitional periods of ice cover as a leading source of model uncertainty, and we instead found that the models failed to simulate accurate values for large positive heat fluxes that occurred from late August into late December. Our results ultimately showed that one-dimensional models are effective in simulating sensible heat fluxes but are considerably less sensitive to latent heat fluxes than the observed relationships of latent heat flux to environmental drivers. These results can be used to focus future improvement of these lake models especially if they are to be used for surface boundary conditions in regional numerical weather models.

Significance Statement

While lakes consist of a small amount of Earth’s surface, they have a large impact on local climate and weather. A large amount of energy is stored in lakes during the spring and summer, and then removed from lakes before winter. The effect is particularly noticeable in high latitudes, when the seasonal temperature difference is larger. Modeling this lake energy exchange is important for weather models and measuring this energy exchange is challenging. Here we compare modeled and observed energy exchange, and we show there are large amounts of energy exchange happening in the fall, which models struggle to capture well. During periods of partial ice coverage in early winter, lake behavior can change rapidly.

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