Limnology

How many lakes are there on Earth?

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Science  17 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6207, pp. 311-312
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6207.311-f

Most maps or databases of global lakes either omit small lakes or estimate their numbers, leaving accurate calculations of their net subaerial coverage uncertain. This makes it difficult to determine the role of lakes in Earth's carbon cycle. Verpoorter et al. use high-resolution satellite images to create a database of all lakes with surface areas greater than 2000 square meters. The interpretation of satellite images can be hampered by the presence of features such as dark forests or mountain shadows, so the authors developed a special algorithm to overcome these problems. They conclude that there are 117 million lakes, covering 3.7% of Earth's land area not covered by ice. They conclude that there are fewer lakes, but that those lakes cover more area, than previous estimates have indicated.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 10.1002/2014GL060641 (2014).

CREDIT: TOMAS SOBEK/FLICKR

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