Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Licensed maintenance engineers for Qantas check on their grounded Boeing 737-800 aircraft

Boeing 737s in Sydney, Australia, that were grounded by the coronavirus pandemic await their chance to return to the skies. Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty

Climate sciences

Why COVID-19 made weather forecasts less reliable

The pandemic grounded many commercial flights, starving forecast models of valuable data acquired at high altitudes.

The near-total grounding of the world’s commercial aircraft by the coronavirus pandemic reduced the accuracy of weather forecasts around the world.

Commercial aircraft collect valuable temperature and wind data as they fly. But the pandemic grounded flights, and up to 75% of these daily data disappeared. This caused concern among meteorologists, who use such data to predict both short- and long-term weather.

Ying Chen at Lancaster Environment Centre in the UK compared forecasts with global temperature, wind and precipitation data. He found that temperature forecasts between March and May 2020 were less accurate than those from February 2020, by up to 2 °C — a statistically significant change.

Forecasts in remote regions, where data are sparse in the best of times, and in regions with heavy air traffic, such as the United States, suffered the most. But in Western Europe, forecasts remained relatively accurate throughout the pandemic because of dense networks of other types of sensor. Replicating these networks in other locations could help to mitigate the impacts of data losses from prolonged lockdowns, Chen says.

More Research Highlights...

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.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Diagram of the nuclear composition and electron configuration of an atom of xenon-132.

A xenon atom’s electrons (grey circles; illustration) have been observed and even manipulated as they shifted their position. Credit: Carlos Clarivan/Science Photo Library

Atomic and molecular physics

An atom shuffles its electrons at ultrahigh speed — and is caught in the act

Scientists capture the movement of electrons in a xenon atom, a phenomenon that lasts for a fraction of one-billionth of a second.
A canal running alongside banks of earth.

An irrigation canal in the dry and intensively farmed San Joaquin Valley of California. Solar panels over such canals are more efficient than those on dry land. Credit: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

Renewable energy

Solar panels that throw shade on canals are an environmental win–win

Placing solar arrays over canals would prevent water loss and improve panels’ energy harvest.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links