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We are pleased to share with you the 50 most read Nature Communications articles* in Earth and planetary sciences published in 2019. Featuring authors from around the world, these papers highlight valuable research from an international community.
Accurate estimates of global mean sea-level rise are important. Here the authors employ a new digital elevation model (DEM) utilizing neural networks and show that the new DEM more than triples the NASA SRTM-based estimates of current global population occupying land below projected sea levels in 2100, with more than 200 million people could be affected based on RCP4.5 and 2 degC of warming.
The greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential of organic methods is poorly understood. Here, the authors assess the GHG impact of a 100% shift to organic food production in England and Wales and find that direct GHG emissions are reduced with organic farming, but when increased land use abroad to allow for production shortfalls is factored in, GHG emissions are elevated well-above the baseline.
It is challenging to communicate abstract future climate estimates. Here the authors utilized climate-analog mapping and they identified that North American urban areas’ climate by the 2080’s will become similar to the contemporary climate of locations hundreds of kilometers away and mainly to the south, while many urban areas will have no modern equivalent analogs under the RCP8.5 scenario.
The relative role of the Deccan Traps volcanic activity versus the role of the Chicxulub impact event in terms of potential contributions to the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction has been subject to longstanding debate. Here, the authors observe a global signal of abruptly increased ocean temperatures and elevated [Hg] in the same biogenic carbonate specimens, prior to the impact event but aligning with the onset of Deccan volcanism.
The relative contributions of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets to Last Interglacial sea level rise remain debated, as do the timing and magnitude. Here, data show that the Antarctic Ice Sheet dominated particularly high levels of sea-level rise during the early Last Interglacial.
Mycorrhizas—mutualistic relationships formed between fungi and most plant species—are functionally linked to soil carbon stocks. Here the authors map the global distribution of mycorrhizal plants and quantify links between mycorrhizal vegetation patterns and terrestrial carbon stocks.
The Antarctic ozone hole is decreasing in size due to policies implemented following the Montreal Protocol. Here, model simulations show that if recently discovered increase in unreported CFC-11 emissions continue, they could delay the recovery of the ozone hole by well over a decade.
There lacks a consistent and holistic evaluation of co-benefits of different mitigation pathways in studies on Integrated Assessment Models. Here the authors quantify environmental co-benefits and adverse side-effects of a portfolio of alternative power sector decarbonisation pathways and show that the scale of co-benefits as well as profiles of adverse side-effects depend strongly on technology choice.
Lithium use in electronics has increased dramatically, but the environmental impacts are poorly understood. Here the authors show lithium in river and tap water in South Korea is coincident with population density, and that waste water treatment is ineffective at scrubbing this potential toxin.
The role of Blue Carbon in climate change mitigation and adaptation has now reached international prominence. Here the authors identified the top-ten unresolved questions in the field and find that most questions relate to the precise role blue carbon can play in mitigating climate change and the most effective management actions in maximising this.
Carbonate weathering captures CO2 and represents a large sink of terrestrial carbon that is threatened by climate and land-use change. Here the authors build a model that predicts drivers of carbonate weathering into the future, determining that runoff is an overlooked controlling factor.
The state of the Main Marmara Fault (fault segment of the North Anatolian Fault) is widely discussed, towards whether it is creeping or locked. The authors here present seafloor geodetic measurements which indicate a complete locking of the fault in the central part of the Sea of Marmara. This provides significant information for the assessment of both seismic and potential tsunami hazard to Istanbul.
Anoxic lake sediments are thought to be the major source of the high amount of methane emitted from freshwaters. Here Günthel and colleagues find unexpected quantities of this greenhouse gas are produced in lake surfaces, indicating an overlooked global importance from oxygenated sources.
Recent recession of the Larsen Ice Shelf C has revealed that microbial alteration of illite can occur within marine sediments, a process previously thought to only occur abiotically during low-grade metamorphism. Here, the authors show that such microbial alteration of illite could provide a potential source of Fe release to Southern Ocean waters during Holocene glacial cycles.
The increasingly prevalent view of magmatic systems as mush-dominated challenges the common assumption that melt inclusions record the pre-eruptive storage and processing of the melts they were erupted with. Here, the authors show that melt inclusions from Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai'i exhibit extreme compositional diversity, consistent with the accumulation of inclusion-bearing crystals in magmatic mush zones for >170 years before their eventual eruption in unrelated carrier melts.
Existing fibers beneath the world’s oceans can in principle be used as seismic sensors, but the full potential of this possibility has yet to be explored. Here, the authors demonstrate the feasibility of distributed acoustic sensing in a coastal fiber as a sensor for earthquakes and wave phenomena.
Fractured rocks of impact craters have been suggested to be suitable hosts for deep microbial communities on Earth, and potentially other terrestrial planets, yet direct evidence remains elusive. Here, the authors show that the Siljan impact structure is host to long-term deep methane-cycling microbial activity.
The role of solar and wind energy (SWE) in management of water-food-energy (WFE) nexus is largely neglected. Here the authors developed a trade-off frontier framework to quantify the water sustainability value of SWE and applied it in California, where they found that SWE penetration creates beneficial feedback for the WFE nexus by enhancing drought resilience and benefits groundwater sustainability over long run.
The defaunation of vertebrates may disrupt forest functioning through the loss of plant-animal interactions, but impacts on forests remain unquantified. Here the authors show that seed dispersal is a key interaction and defaunation of primates and birds negatively impacts forest regeneration.
Robust estimates of either urban expansion worldwide or the effects of such phenomenon on terrestrial net primary productivity (NPP) are lacking. Here the authors used the new dataset of global land use to show that the global urban areas expanded largely between 2000 and 2010, which in turn reduced terrestrial NPP globally.
Abrupt land changes may have long-lasting effects on local biodiversity. Here, Jung et al. show that past abrupt land change reduces species richness and abundance, and alters assemblage composition, with recovery often taking more than 10 years.
The radiative forcing due to aerosol-cloud interactions constitutes one of the largest uncertainties of anthropogenic radiative forcing. Direct satellite measurements of the relevant aerosol properties reveal that the resulting cooling from anthropogenic aerosols is much stronger than previously thought.
Distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) technology in geophysics is commonly known for applications such as active source seismic profiling in boreholes. Here, the authors convert the fiber optics cable into an ocean bottom seismic recording array with thousands of single component channels.
Current projections on rice production do not consider the coupled stresses of impending climate change and the toxin arsenic in paddy soils. Here, the authors examined potential compounding impacts of soil arsenic and a changing climate on rice production and show that climate-induced changes in soil arsenic behaviour and plant response will lead to currently unforeseen losses in paddy rice grain productivity and quality.
Policies aiming to preserve vegetated coastal ecosystems (VCE) to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions require national assessments of blue carbon resources. Here the authors assessed organic carbon storage in VCE across Australian and the potential annual CO2 emission benefits of VCE conservation and find that Australia contributes substantially the carbon stored in VCE globally.
Plastics threaten the ocean environment. Here the authors present a 60 year time series (via the continuous plankton recorder) for the North Atlantic, revealing a significant increase in marine plastic after 1990.
Tropical land ecosystems contain vast carbon reservoirs, but their influence on atmospheric CO2 is poorly understood. Here the authors use new carbon-observing satellites to reveal a large emission source over northern tropical Africa, where there are large soil carbon stores and substantial land use changes.
Tropical cyclone-induced coastal flooding will increase under climate change. Here the authors estimate the effects of sea level rise and tropical cyclone climatology change on late–21st–century flood hazards along the US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and find that the effect of tropical cyclone change could surpass the effect of sea level rise at some areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
On 22 December 2018, the western flank of Anak Krakatau collapsed into the sea of the Sunda Strait triggering a tsunami which killed approximately 430 people and displaced 33,000. Here, the authors show that Anak Krakatau exhibited an elevated state of activity several months prior to the collapse, including precursory thermal anomalies, an increase in the island’s surface area, and a gradual seaward motion of the southwestern flank.
Some of Earth’s earliest continental crust has been previously inferred to have formed from partial melting of hydrated mafic crust at pressures above 1.5 GPa (more than 50 km deep), pressures typically not reached in post-Archean continental crust. Here, the authors show that such high pressure signatures can result from melting of mantle sources rather than melting of crust, and they suggest there is a lack of evidence that Earth’s earliest crust melted at depths significantly below 40 km.
Power plants, vehicles and industry will continue to produce emissions for as long as they are used. Here, the authors show that retiring existing fossil fuel infrastructure at the end of its expected lifetime provides a good chance that the 1.5 °C Paris Agreement target can still be met.
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum constitutes one of the largest climate perturbations in Earth’s history, but its exact causes are not well known. New estimates of greenhouse gas fluxes from the North Atlantic Igneous Province at high temporal resolution show that they could have initiated this event.
Past Indian summer monsoon (ISM) changes are not well understood. The application of an energetic framework to a transient model simulation shows that ISM influences have changed in the past, with rising water vapor more important during deglaciation, whereas cloud feedbacks dominated during the Holocene.
Future energy demand maybe induced by climate change and subject to uncertainties arising from different extent of climate change and socioeconomic development. Here the authors follow a top-down approach and combined the recently developed socio-economic and climate scenarios and found that across 210 scenarios, moderate warming increases global climate-exposed energy demand before adaptation by 25–58% between 2010 and 2050.
Swarms of crustaceans called krill dominate Antarctic ecosystems, yet their influence on biogeochemical cycles remains a mystery. Here Cavan and colleagues review the role of krill in the Southern Ocean, and the impact of the krill fishery on ocean fertilisation and the carbon sink.
Carbon dioxide removal technologies are often touted as a potential strategy to combat ocean acidification. However, the authors show here that these strategies are only effective when included as part of aggressive and rapid climate-action, undermining the idea of geoengineering as a panacea.
Global soil carbon dynamics are regulated by the modification of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition by plant carbon input (priming effect). Here, the authors collect soil data along a 2200 km grassland transect on the Tibetan Plateau and find that SOM stability is the major control on priming effect.
Shrinking Arctic Canada ice caps are revealing preserved landscapes containing a record of past glacier activity. Here the authors show that 14C ages of plants and cosmogenic 14C concentrations from these landscapes indicate that recently exposed landscapes have been continuously ice covered for > 40,000 years.
Protected areas are important refugia for wildlife, so if climate conditions within them change, wildlife could lose critical suitable habitat. Here the authors calculate the projected gain and loss of climate conditions within terrestrial protected areas worldwide.
Climate change strongly impacts regions in high latitudes and altitudes that store high amounts of carbon in yet frozen ground. Here the authors show that the consequence of these changes is global warming of permafrost at depths greater than 10 m in the Northern Hemisphere, in mountains, and in Antarctica.
Plastic pollution is a purely anthropogenic problem and cannot be solved without large-scale human action. Motivating mitigation actions requires more realistic assumptions about human decision-making based on empirical evidence from the behavioural sciences enabling the design of more effective interventions.
Nonlinear transitions in permafrost carbon feedback and surface albedo feedback have largely been excluded from climate policy studies. Here the authors modelled the dynamics of the two nonlinear feedbacks and the associated uncertainty, and found an important contribution to warming which leads to additional economic losses from climate change.
Changes in chlorophyll-a are used as an indirect proxy for monitoring global changes in marine phytoplankton. Here the authors show that remote sensing reflectance (RRS), such as the ratio of upwelling versus downwelling light at the ocean’s surface, has a stronger and earlier climate-change-driven signal over the 21st century.
Climate dynamics in Earth’s distant history can provide important forecasting for future changes, but uncertainties in proxy-derived carbon dioxide results are common. Here Da and colleagues present a refined paleosol proxy for carbon dioxide reconstruction, and report persistently low levels ( < 300 ppm) throughout the Pleistocene interglacials.
The contribution of symbiotic dinitrogen fixation to the forest carbon sink could change throughout forest succession. Here the authors model nitrogen cycling and light competition between trees based on data from Panamanian forest plots, showing that fixation contributes substantially to the carbon sink in early successional stages.
In this study, the authors combine Landsat images spanning 30 years with a new statistical estimator to produce a soil and mineral spectra map of the Australian continent largely unobscured by vegetation or clouds.
The role of fungi in the biogeochemical cycling of gold remains unclear. Here the authors show that fungi can initiate gold oxidation under supergene conditions, thereby impacting gold mobilisation and secondary deposit formation in terrestrial environments.
Nitrogen mineralisation (Nmin), an important index of soil fertility, is often determined in the laboratory, with an uncertain relationship to Nmin under field conditions. Here the authors show that combining laboratory measurements with environmental data greatly improves predictions of field Nmin at a global scale.
Climate change represents an existential, global threat to humanity, yet its delocalized nature complicates climate action. Here, the authors propose retrofitting air conditioning units as integrated, scalable, and renewable-powered devices capable of decentralized CO2 conversion and energy democratization.