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Amazon forest area is burnt in rural Novo Progresso.

A section of the Amazon burns in Novo Progresso, Brazil, in 2019. Fires are likely to ravage larger areas of the forest even if greenhouse-gas emissions fall. Credit: Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto/Getty

Climate sciences

Playing with fire could turn the Amazon into a carbon source

More blazes are forecast for the iconic rainforest as the climate changes, but stringent measures could limit the damage.

Resolute efforts to prevent fires in the Amazon could more than halve the projected greenhouse-gas emissions from forest fires in the region.

Trees store carbon, but burning them releases those stores. To forecast the future of Earth’s largest rainforest, Paulo Brando at the University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues modelled how an increasingly warm and dry climate will affect wildfire risk in the southern Brazilian Amazon. They found that, even if global greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced, forest fires will intensify over the next decades, possibly doubling the total area of burnt forest.

But the researchers found that greenhouse-gas emissions from Amazon fires can be substantially reduced if further deforestation is avoided, and if fire management is improved in areas that are dependent on slash-and-burn agriculture.

Aggressive efforts to eliminate sources of sparks and to suppress unwanted fires are crucial to prevent the Amazon from turning from a carbon sink to a carbon source, they say.

More Research Highlights...

Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty

Metabolism

A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
Members of the "Ice Memory project" extract an ice core piece out of a drill machine

Scientists extract an ice core from the Col du Dome glacier near the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. A similar core documents changes in emissions of an ozone-depleting gas. Credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

A glacier on Mont Blanc provides a decades-long record of the use of bromine, which corrodes the ozone layer.
Jumping ant guarding pupae and larvae at the nest

The brain of an Indian jumping worker ant (above, guarding pupae and larvae) becomes smaller if she starts to lay eggs but can regrow to its old size if she stops reproducing. Credit: Martin Dohrn/Nature Picture Library

Neuroscience

Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

Brain volume plummets in ‘gamergate’ ants that gain the ability to reproduce, but rises again with a fall in fertility.
A health worker puts on his personal protective equipment

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to care for people infected with Ebola virus during the 2018–20 outbreak, which prompted an extensive genomic analysis. Credit: John Wessels/AFP/Getty

Genomics

An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
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