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Volume 10 Issue 3, March 2020

Future under fire

After a year filled with fires around the world, we present a collection of Comments and Correspondences in this issue on the theme of fire and its implications in a warming world.

Image: Andrew Merry / Moment / Getty. Cover Design: Valentina Monaco.


  • The bushfires burning in Australia have led to widespread local and global calls for increased efforts to mitigate climate change.



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  • Catastrophic fires have generated intensified public responses in favour of transformative climate change action. Realizing the potential of this moment requires us to understand and puncture the cultural and emotional politics of our collective denial.

    • Lesley Head
  • To improve climate resilience for extreme fire events, researchers need to translate modelling uncertainties into useful guidance and be wary of overconfidence. If Earth system models do not capture the severity of recent Australian wildfires, development is urgently needed to assess whether we are underestimating fire risk.

    • Benjamin M. Sanderson
    • Rosie A. Fisher
  • Much of Australia has been in severe drought since at least 2017. Here we link Australian droughts to the absence of Pacific and Indian Ocean mode states that act as key drivers of drought-breaking rains. Predicting the impact of climate change on drought requires accurate modelling of these modes of variability.

    • Andrew D. King
    • Andy J. Pitman
    • Josephine R. Brown
  • Researchers are more accustomed to writing about climate change than adapting their work to it. But as climate change impacts on the research sector become more evident, rapid adaptation is needed.

    • Lauren Rickards
    • James E. M. Watson
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Research Highlights

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News & Views

  • Atmospheric aerosols have probably masked a significant portion of the greenhouse-gas-induced warming so far. Research now shows that this also may have masked some of the world’s increasing economic inequality.

    • Marianne T. Lund
    News & Views
  • Temperature affects the metabolic rates of species, their feeding interactions and their ability to persist in a given environment. Now research suggests that different effects of temperature on consumers and resources could cause food webs in cold climates to become less vulnerable to species loss, whereas tropical communities may be more vulnerable as temperatures climb.

    • Alyssa R. Cirtwill
    News & Views
  • Under climate change, sea-level rise is expected to bring about large changes in the world’s coastlines. Now, research predicting future shoreline change from satellite data indicates loss of nearly 50% of sandy beaches by the end of the century.

    • Sue Brooks
    News & Views
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  • Flash droughts, which develop over the course of weeks, are difficult to forecast given the current state of subseasonal-to-seasonal prediction. This Perspective offers operational and research definitions, places them in the broader context of climate and suggests avenues for future research.

    • Angeline G. Pendergrass
    • Gerald A. Meehl
    • Connie A. Woodhouse
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Review Articles

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  • Anthropogenic aerosols mask some greenhouse warming via radiation scattering and cloud interactions. Research suggests the economic impact of this aerosol-induced cooling was small globally, although it benefitted developing countries in warm climates and harmed high-latitude developed countries.

    • Yixuan Zheng
    • Steven J. Davis
    • Ken Caldeira
  • Anthropogenic aerosol emissions decreased over North America and Europe but increased over Asia since the 1970s. This caused jet stream winds to shift poleward over the Atlantic, decreasing planetary wave activity and partially inhibiting extreme winter weather over northern Eurasia.

    • Yuan Wang
    • Tianhao Le
    • Jonathan H. Jiang
  • Warming in the Arctic has been thought to cause mid-latitude weather and climate changes. Simulations show Arctic changes have small influence outside of high latitudes, with background global warming exerting more influence over mid-latitude winter precipitation and wind changes.

    • Aiguo Dai
    • Mirong Song
  • The stability of climatic conditions since the Last Glacial Maximum has contributed to current global patterns of species richness. Changes in patterns of climate stability this century reveal areas where climate change could reduce biodiversity, with largest losses in past climatic safe havens.

    • Stuart C. Brown
    • Tom M. L. Wigley
    • Damien A. Fordham
  • Climate change induced warming, hypoxia and acidification threaten marine species. Experimental work shows that the susceptibility of clades to climate-related stressors in the modern ocean is related to their extinction risk in the fossil record, which could allow prediction of future responses.

    • Carl J. Reddin
    • Paulina S. Nätscher
    • Wolfgang Kiessling
  • Intergenerational inheritance of traits in corals can help species survive environmental change. Examination of intergenerational DNA methylation profiles in a reef-building coral shows there to be genome-wide inheritance, with the potential for adaptive capacity to environmental stressors.

    • Yi Jin Liew
    • Emily J. Howells
    • Manuel Aranda
  • Erosion is a major problem facing sandy beaches that will probably worsen with climate change and sea-level rise. Half the world’s beaches, many of which are in densely populated areas, could disappear by the end of the century under current trends; mitigation could lessen retreat by 40%.

    • Michalis I. Vousdoukas
    • Roshanka Ranasinghe
    • Luc Feyen
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  • Global warming will affect food-web structure and species persistence, and real world data is needed for better prediction. Combining species counts and temperature data from rock pools with dynamic modelling predicts biodiversity increases in arctic to temperate regions and declines in the tropics.

    • Benoit Gauzens
    • Björn C. Rall
    • Ulrich Brose
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