Since the 1970s models have been used to predict the water quality of lakes and reservoirs to support their management. Lake models are also used for testing hypotheses in research. Many different approaches and levels of complexity have been and are used to achieve the different goals.

An overview is given of the basic principles of biogeo-chemical and ecological lake modeling. We start with a brief discussion of the objectives of ecosystems modeling with a particular emphasis on lake modeling. Then we give an overview of important processes in lakes and discuss major difficulties of describing them in lake models. This is followed by an overview of important components of lake models and how different formulations of these components attempt to overcome the problems mentioned in the preceding section. In the next section, we show mathematical process formulations typically used in the biogeochemical and ecological parts of lake models. Finally, by briefly describing a selection of lake models and their application, we provide an overview of different models currently in use and different modeling strategies applied by different research groups. The article focuses on mechanistic lake modeling because they more comprehensively address the objectives discussed in the next section in comparison to empirical and statistical approaches to lake modeling. Empirical and statistical approaches usually provide less insight into mechanisms in the ecosystem. Nevertheless, also these approaches can be useful for analysis and extrapolation of observed behavior.

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