Climate change and rivers

Climate warming alters river characteristics important for ecosystems and emissions, as well as precipitation and meltwater contributing to river runoff. See featured research on these topics below.

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  • Mountain snowpack declines are often tracked using snow water equivalent trends sensitive to highly variable precipitation. Observational work proposes temperature-driven daily snowmelt during the accumulation season as an alternative metric, with increases that are three times more widespread.

    • Keith N. Musselman
    • Nans Addor
    • Noah P. Molotch
  • Changes in lightning activity are uncertain under climate change. The authors project that summer lightning in the Arctic is likely to more than double by the end of the century, with implications for lightning-strike tundra wildfires and associated carbon release from permafrost.

    • Yang Chen
    • David M. Romps
    • James T. Randerson
  • Agricultural productivity has increased historically, but the impact of climate change on productivity growth is not clear. In the last 60 years, anthropogenic climate change has reduced agricultural total factor production globally by 21%, with stronger impacts in warmer regions.

    • Ariel Ortiz-Bobea
    • Toby R. Ault
    • David B. Lobell
  • Modelling riverine fish growth across warm and cool sections of a river network, the authors demonstrate that habitats that are suboptimally warm in summer may actually provide the majority of growth potential. This highlights a risk in conservation strategies that devalue ephemerally warm habitats.

    • Jonathan B. Armstrong
    • Aimee H. Fullerton
    • Gordon H. Reeves
  • The impact of glacier retreat on fungal-driven decomposition in rivers is investigated using a standardized test across six countries. Less glacier cover is linked to increased decomposition, which is in turn associated with a greater abundance of fungi and a fungal cellulose-degrading gene, cbhI.

    • Sarah C. Fell
    • Jonathan L. Carrivick
    • Lee E. Brown
  • Model projections of future drylands distribution using a proxy based on atmospheric aridity show expansion under climate change, but may not be an accurate representation. An alternative index based on ecohydrological variables such as water limitation shows no global expansion of drylands.

    • Alexis Berg
    • Kaighin A. McColl
  • This month marks 10 years since the first issue of Nature Climate Change. In this issue, we reflect on developments in research areas over those years and celebrate some memorable papers published in our pages.

  • In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Nature Climate Change, past and present editors reminisce about some of the papers that stood out.

    • Alyssa Findlay
    • Bronwyn Wake
  • Weather and climate service providers around the world are looking to issue assessments of the human role in recent extreme weather events. For this attribution to be of value, it is important that vulnerability is acknowledged and questions are framed appropriately.

    • Dáithí A. Stone
    • Suzanne M. Rosier
    • David J. Frame
  • About 12 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, its immediate and lasting impacts on the climate system and fossil fuel economy are now better understood. These insights will be fundamental to the global recovery — and ideally the green transitions that accompany it — but the implementation will be hard-won.


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