Vertical transport of dissolved substances and heat in lakes mainly results from two different mechanisms: (a) mixing by turbulence that is usually described as a diffusive transport and (b) density-driven exchange that can be considered as an advective transport. A typical example of the latter is convection owing to surface cooling in fall, which often leads to isothermal conditions in shallow lakes of the temperate zone. Because entrainment of ambient water limits the depth of convective plumes, density-driven transport to large depth in deep lakes usually occurs along the lake boundaries and is often the result of specific and localized processes, which are discussed later.

The important role of density-driven transport for vertical exchange in lakes becomes evident if one considers that temperature stratification typical for most lakes is characterized by a decrease in water temperature with increasing water depth. Turbulent diffusion causes heat to flow from high to low temperatures and hence typically leads to a gradual continuous warming of cold deep-water regions. Thus, on a long-term average, advective processes transporting cold surface water downwards must be sufficient to compensate for the heat flux due to turbulent diffusion. The low temperatures in the deep water are usually either the remnant of isothermal conditions generated by buoyancy-driven overturn during the cold season or originate from cold density currents propagating to largest depth. Because vertical transport due to density currents plays an important role in overall deep-water renewal and heat exchange, density driven exchange processes are central to the understanding of oxygenation and nutrient transport especially in deep lakes.

In the world's largest and deepest water bodies several processes have been identified that lead to advec-tive deep-water renewal by density currents: river inflow, e.g., in Lake Constance, Lake Geneva, and Lake Baikal; inter-basin exchange, e.g., in Lake Lucerne, Lake Baikal, or even in the Caspian Sea; differential cooling, e.g., in Lake Geneva, Lake Constance, Lake Issyk-Kul, and Lake Malawi; thermal-bar mixing, e.g., in the Lake Ontario, Lake Ladoga, Lake Michigan, and Lake Baikal; and transport due to thermobaric instabilities, e.g., in Lake Baikal and possibly in Crater Lake. All these processes have been shown to significantly contribute to deep-water renewal in lakes, although advective transport to the lake bottom was not conclusively demonstrated in all cases. More details on the different processes are given below.

In the following, we first describe the principal characteristics of density currents and the associated signals of intrusions in vertical profiles of water constituents and temperature. Then, we present several mechanisms that lead to the generation of density plumes in deep freshwater lakes and discuss which of these processes can also be responsible for deep-water renewal in tropical and saline lakes. Finally, we discuss the potential impact of changes in the catchments of lakes and in the meteorological conditions on deep-water renewal by density currents.

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