Table of contents



Half-hearted engineering p719


Climate warming is not the only consequence of rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. The only way to counter all effects, including those on rainfall and ocean acidity, is to remove carbon from the climate system.

See also: Commentary by Boyd



Rare metals getting rarer pp720 - 721

Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir


Ranking geo-engineering schemes pp722 - 724

Philip W. Boyd


Geo-engineering proposals for mitigating climate change continue to proliferate without being tested. It is time to select and assess the most promising ideas according to efficacy, cost, all aspects of risk and, importantly, their rate of mitigation.


Books and Arts

Ten thousand years of climate change p725

Natural Climate Variability and Global Warming: A Holocene Perspective by Richard W. Battarbee & Heather A. Binney



Research Highlights

Research highlights p726



News and Views

Carbon Cycle: Tempestuous transport pp727 - 728

Timothy I. Eglinton


Riverine transport of terrestrial organic carbon to the oceans exerts an important long-term control on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Tropical cyclones participate in this process by delivering recently fixed carbon to the sea.

Subject Categories: Biogeochemistry | Climate science

Climate science: Global warming at the poles pp728 - 729

Andrew Monaghan & David Bromwich


Natural climate variability and limited observational records have made identifying human-influenced climate change at the poles difficult. But a human signature is now emerging in rising Arctic and Antarctic temperatures.

Subject Category: Climate science

Climate Science: The other greenhouse effect p729

Anna Armstrong


Seismology: Breaking the slab pp730 - 731

Meghan S. Miller


Two chains of seamounts on the Pacific plate subduct beneath central Japan. In the process, a fragment of the Pacific slab has become wedged in the subduction zone and may be the source of recurring deep-thrust earthquakes beneath Tokyo.

Subject Category: Seismology

Natural Disaster: Flood of evidence p731

Alicia Newton


Geomorphology: A glacial driver of tectonics pp732 - 733

Simon H. Brocklehurst


The interactions between climate and tectonics in active mountain ranges are complex and important. Field and geophysical data from the St Elias Range of Alaska show that glacial erosion can influence the dynamics of the lithosphere in such settings.

Subject Category: Geomorphology



The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth's temperature to radiation changes pp735 - 743

Reto Knutti & Gabriele C. Hegerl


The quest to determine climate sensitivity has been going on for decades, with disturbingly little progress in narrowing the large uncertainty range. But fascinating new insights have been gained that will provide useful information for policy makers, even though the upper limit of climate sensitivity will probably remain uncertain for the near future.

Subject Category: Climate science



Intense polar temperature inversion in the middle atmosphere on Mars pp745 - 749

D. J. McCleese, J. T. Schofield, F. W. Taylor, W. A. Abdou, O. Aharonson, D. Banfield, S. B. Calcutt, N. G. Heavens, P. G. J. Irwin, D. M. Kass, A. Kleinböhl, W. G. Lawson, C. B. Leovy, S. R. Lewis, D. A. Paige, P. L. Read, M. I. Richardson, N. Teanby & R. W. Zurek


Current understanding of weather, climate and global atmospheric circulation on Mars is incomplete, in particular at altitudes above about 30 km. High-resolution observations from the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show an intense warming of the middle atmosphere over the south polar region in winter, which suggests a much more vigorous equator-to-pole circulation than expected.

Subject Category: Planetary science

Attribution of polar warming to human influence pp750 - 754

Nathan P. Gillett, Dáithí A. Stone, Peter A. Stott, Toru Nozawa, Alexey Yu. Karpechko, Gabriele C. Hegerl, Michael F. Wehner & Philip D. Jones


Polar temperatures have been warming significantly over the past few decades. A comparison between observational temperature records and model simulations shows that temperature changes in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions can be attributed to human activity.

Subject Category: Climate science

See also: News and Views by Monaghan & Bromwich

Strong transport and mixing of deep water through the Southwest Indian Ridge pp755 - 758

J. A. MacKinnon, T. M. S. Johnston & R. Pinkel


Understanding heat exchange in the Indian Ocean requires knowledge of the magnitudes and locations of both meridional deep-water transport and mixing. Observations from a fracture zone in the Southwest Indian Ridge quantify the flow through this narrow region to 20–30% of the total meridional overturning circulation in the Indian Ocean, and provide an example of elevated turbulence in a deep sheared flow.

Subject Categories: Oceanography | Climate science

Tropical-cyclone-driven erosion of the terrestrial biosphere from mountains pp759 - 762

Robert G. Hilton, Albert Galy, Niels Hovius, Meng-Chiang Chen, Ming-Jame Horng & Hongey Chen


The transfer of organic carbon from the terrestrial biosphere to the oceans via erosion and riverine transport constitutes an important component of the global carbon cycle. Measurements of particulate organic carbon load and composition in the LiWu river, Taiwan, during cyclone-triggered floods suggest that tropical cyclones may facilitate the delivery of non-fossil particulate organic carbon to the ocean and its subsequent burial.

Subject Categories: Biogeochemistry | Climate science | Hydrology, hydrogeology and limnology

See also: News and Views by Eglinton

High sensitivity of peat decomposition to climate change through water-table feedback pp763 - 766

Takeshi Ise, Allison L. Dunn, Steven C. Wofsy & Paul R. Moorcroft


The water table interacts with soil organic carbon in northern peatlands that have historically functioned as a carbon sink. Simulations with a coupled physical–biogeochemical soil model with continuously updated peat depths show that the feedback between the water table and peat depth increases the sensitivity of peat decomposition to temperature, and intensifies the loss of soil organic carbon in a changing climate.

Subject Categories: Biogeochemistry | Climate science | Hydrology, hydrogeology and limnology

Negative impact of nitrogen deposition on soil buffering capacity pp767 - 770

William D. Bowman, Cory C. Cleveland, Uppercase l acuteubos caron Halada, Juraj Hres caronko & Jill S. Baron


Sustained nitrogen deposition has had a detrimental effect on ecosystems in Europe and North America. Now a grassland in Slovakia is showing symptoms of extreme soil acidification not previously observed in association with nitrogen deposition.

Subject Categories: Ecology | Biogeochemistry

See also: related Backstory

A slab fragment wedged under Tokyo and its tectonic and seismic implications pp771 - 776

Shinji Toda, Ross S. Stein, Stephen H. Kirby & Serkan B. Bozkurt


A three-dimensional evaluation of earthquake hypocentres beneath the Kanto basin in Japan reveals the presence of a distinct, 25-km-thick and 100-km-wide body. Its fast seismic velocity and the presence of a double seismic zone suggest that it is a fragment of the Pacific slab, rather than an extension of the Philippine Sea slab. This implies that the penetration of the Philippine Sea slab is much shallower beneath the Kanto basin than was previously thought.

Subject Categories: Seismology | Structural geology, tectonics and geodynamics

See also: News and Views by Miller

Seismic evidence for broken oceanic crust in the 2004 Sumatra earthquake epicentral region pp777 - 781

Satish C. Singh, Hélène Carton, Paul Tapponnier, Nugroho D. Hananto, Ajay P. S. Chauhan, Djoko Hartoyo, Martin Bayly, Soelistijani Moeljopranoto, Tim Bunting, Phil Christie, Hasbi Lubis & James Martin


The 2004 Sumatra earthquake was one of the largest events to occur in a subduction zone in the past 50 years. Seismic reflection data for this subduction zone reveal thrust faults cutting across the entire oceanic crust. This observation, coupled with the hypocentres of aftershocks, suggests that the megathrust—the interface between the Indo-Australian plate and the Sunda plate—currently lies in the oceanic mantle.

Subject Categories: Seismology | Structural geology, tectonics and geodynamics

Putative greigite magnetofossils from the Pliocene epoch pp782 - 786

Iuliana Vasiliev, Christine Franke, Johannes D. Meeldijk, Mark J. Dekkers, Cor G. Langereis & Wout Krijgsman


Greigite crystals of bacterial origin are widespread in modern sedimentary environments, but their occurrence in the fossil record remains controversial. Grains from Romanian Pliocene-aged sediments have now been identified as bacterial in origin, tentatively placing them among the oldest known greigite magnetofossils.

Subject Categories: Biogeochemistry | Geomagnetism, palaeomagnetism and core processes



Antarctic temperature at orbital timescales controlled by local summer duration pp787 - 792

Peter Huybers & George Denton


On orbital timescales, Antarctic climate varies in phase with Northern Hemisphere insolation, but no physical mechanism for such a link is known. A new analysis suggests that at obliquity and precession timescales Antarctic climate may instead be responding to the duration of the local summer, which covaries with Northern insolation.

Subject Category: Palaeoclimate and palaeoceanography

Quaternary tectonic response to intensified glacial erosion in an orogenic wedge pp793 - 799

Aaron L. Berger, Sean P. S. Gulick, James A. Spotila, Phaedra Upton, John M. Jaeger, James B. Chapman, Lindsay A. Worthington, Terry L. Pavlis, Kenneth D. Ridgway, Bryce A. Willems & Ryan J. McAleer


Intense glaciation during the middle Pleistocene epoch led to focused denudation and mass redistribution within the St Elias orogen in southern Alaska, and resulted in structural reorganization of the orogen. The tectonic response of this orogen to climate change is consistent with predictions of numerical models.

Subject Categories: Geomorphology | Palaeoclimate and palaeoceanography | Structural geology, tectonics and geodynamics

See also: News and Views by Brocklehurst | related Backstory



Flying high p802


Aaron Berger and colleagues leapt out of helicopters in the snow and fog in their quest to understand the effects of glacial erosion on mountain formation.

Searching the soils pE18


William Bowman and colleagues braved beverages of pig fat and vodka in their attempt to understand the impact of long-term nitrogen deposition on Slovakian soils.


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