Environmental sciences

  • Article
    | Open Access

    Sea spray aerosol (SSA) are an important way through which oceans can influence the atmosphere’s radiative properties. Here, the authors present measurements taken over a 42,000 km ship cruise in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and show that SSA number concentrations vary over a 24-hour cycle, possibly linked to surface water bubble-bursting dynamics.

    • J. Michel Flores
    • , Guillaume Bourdin
    •  & Ilan Koren
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Nowhere is biomass burning more abundant than on the African continent, but the biogeochemical impacts on forests are poorly understood. Here the authors show that biomass burning leads to high phosphorus deposition in the Congo basin, which scales with forest age as a result of increasing canopy complexity.

    • Marijn Bauters
    • , Travis W. Drake
    •  & Pascal Boeckx
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Accurate seasonal forecasts of sea ice are highly valuable, particularly in the context of sea ice loss due to global warming. A new machine learning tool for sea ice forecasting offers a substantial increase in accuracy over current physics-based dynamical model predictions.

    • Tom R. Andersson
    • , J. Scott Hosking
    •  & Emily Shuckburgh
  • Article
    | Open Access

    N2 fixation was key to the expansion of life on Earth, but which organisms fixed N2 and if Mo-nitrogenase was functional in the low Mo early ocean is unknown. Here, the authors show that purple sulfur bacteria fix N2 using Mo-nitrogenase in a Proterozoic ocean analogue, despite low Mo conditions.

    • Miriam Philippi
    • , Katharina Kitzinger
    •  & Marcel M. M. Kuypers
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Methane emissions from oil and gas systems are underestimated in official inventories. Here the authors synthesize thousands of field measurements and develop an inventory-based model for a better understanding of why this underestimation exists and how it can be fixed.

    • Jeffrey S. Rutherford
    • , Evan D. Sherwin
    •  & Adam R. Brandt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    This paper quantifies global urban water scarcity in 2016 and 2050 and explores potential solutions. One third to nearly half of the global urban population is projected to face water scarcity problems.

    • Chunyang He
    • , Zhifeng Liu
    •  & Brett A. Bryan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The global water demands of irrigated agriculture are estimated through country surveys or through hydrological models, but both approaches are taxing. Here, the authors show that they can simply be estimated as a function of irrigated areas.

    • Arnald Puy
    • , Emanuele Borgonovo
    •  & Andrea Saltelli
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Plastics are major marine pollutants, and while research suggests that they can release potential harmful additives into seawater, how environmental conditions influence this is unknown. Here the authors determine that byproducts released from microplastics are less under deep-sea conditions versus surface.

    • Vincent Fauvelle
    • , Marc Garel
    •  & Richard Sempéré
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Lead toxicity poses a big hurdle for the commercialization of perovskite optoelectronics, hence reducing the environmental impact holds the answer for its future application. To tackle this challenge, the authors utilize germanium to reduce the lead content, enabling highly luminescent eco-friendly compound for LEDs.

    • Dexin Yang
    • , Guoling Zhang
    •  & Dawei Di
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Freshwater salinisation is a growing water quality problem, but impacts and drivers across regional to global scales have been lacking. A new assessment of inter-regional freshwater salinisation demonstrates the importance of irrigation as a driver of salinisation.

    • Josefin Thorslund
    • , Marc F. P. Bierkens
    •  & Michelle T. H. van Vliet
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Microbes that colonise ice sheet surfaces are important to the carbon cycle, but their biomass and transport remains unquantified. Here, the authors reveal substantial microbial carbon fluxes across Greenland’s ice surface, in quantities that may sustain subglacial heterotrophs and fuel methanogenesis.

    • T. D. L. Irvine-Fynn
    • , A. Edwards
    •  & A. Hubbard
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Conserving mangrove biodiversity has numerous co-benefits, including climate change-mitigation. Here the authors demonstrate that blue carbon storage in mangroves can be best sustained by combining site-specific dominant species with other species with contrasting functional traits.

    • Md Mizanur Rahman
    • , Martin Zimmer
    •  & Ming Xu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Afforestation is an important greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation strategy but the efficacy of commercial (harvested) forestry is disputed. Here the authors apply dynamic life cycle assessment to show that new commercial conifer forests can achieve up to 269% more GHG mitigation than semi-natural forests, over 100 years.

    • Eilidh J. Forster
    • , John R. Healey
    •  & David Styles
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Aviation contributes to climate change and ways to reduce its emissions are widely debated. Here, the authors assess the effects of technology improvements and the use of sustainable aviation fuels and find that even when these are considered aviation is unlikely to meet emissions goals in line with the Paris Agreement.

    • Volker Grewe
    • , Arvind Gangoli Rao
    •  & Katrin Dahlmann
  • Review Article
    | Open Access

    Whether or not a city achieves absolute sustainability is difficult to assess with existing frameworks. Here the authors, in a review, show that a further integration of consumption-based accounting and benchmarking is necessary to aid the monitoring and assessment of Sustainable Development Goals in cities.

    • Thomas Wiedmann
    •  & Cameron Allen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Advanced copper supply chain modeling shows China’s new waste trade policy may increase pollution, while limiting other low-value imports reverses this trend. Here the authors show that recycling is vulnerable to supply chain shocks, requiring investment during recoveries to promote a circular economy.

    • John Ryter
    • , Xinkai Fu
    •  & Elsa A. Olivetti
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is one of the most important environmental health risk factors in many regions. Here, the authors present an assessment of PM2.5 emission sources and the related health impacts across global to sub-national scales and find that over 1 million deaths were avoidable in 2017 by eliminating PM2.5 mass associated with fossil fuel combustion emissions.

    • Erin E. McDuffie
    • , Randall V. Martin
    •  & Michael Brauer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Social inequalities may be reflected in how ecosystem services are distributed among groups of people. Here the authors estimate the distribution of three ecosystem services across demographic and socioeconomic groups in the US between 2020 and 2100, finding that non-white and lower-income groups disproportionately bear the loss of ecosystem service benefits.

    • Jesse D. Gourevitch
    • , Aura M. Alonso-Rodríguez
    •  & Taylor H. Ricketts
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The middle of the Gulf of Mexico is stratified and highly oligotrophic, yet there are anomalously high fluxes of sinking particulate matter from the euphotic zone. Here the authors show that lateral advection of organic matter supports nitrogen export in the Gulf of Mexico’s open ocean.

    • Thomas B. Kelly
    • , Angela N. Knapp
    •  & Michael R. Stukel
  • Review Article
    | Open Access

    Water scarcity is a rapidly spreading global challenge but water purification technologies are often not sustainable. Here, the authors review the research on water purification technologies based on protein nanofibrils as a green and affordable solution to alleviate a water crisis.

    • Mohammad Peydayesh
    •  & Raffaele Mezzenga
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Open fires can increase heavy exposure to hazardous particulate matters, and thus harm human health, particularly among the vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant women. Here, the authors show an association between maternal exposure to fire smoke and increased risk of pregnancy loss in South Asia.

    • Tao Xue
    • , Guannan Geng
    •  & Tong Zhu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Mercury is a neurotoxin and pollutant with enhanced emissions from anthropogenic activities. Here, the authors develop a global emissions, transport, and human risk model and find substantial future losses in revenue and public health if emission reductions proposed by the Minamata Convention are delayed.

    • Yanxu Zhang
    • , Zhengcheng Song
    •  & Ping Li
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Filling of dams, when coinciding with droughts, can lead to severe downstream hydrology and ecology problems. The authors hence here provide a multisectoral perspective, using a dam in Ethiopia as an example, to develop adaptive filling solutions that support decision making, favourable filling timing and an effective filling policy.

    • Marta Zaniolo
    • , Matteo Giuliani
    •  & Andrea Castelletti
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The macroalgae Sargassum has grown for centuries in the oligotrophic North Atlantic supported by natural nutrient sources and cycling. Here the authors show that changes in tissue nutrient contents since the 1980s reflect global anthropogenic nitrogen enrichment, causing blooms in the wider Atlantic basin.

    • B. E. Lapointe
    • , R. A. Brewton
    •  & P. L. Morton
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Expanded phosphorus availability possibly triggered a marine bioproduction boom after 2.3 billion years ago, but its delivery mechanisms remain unclear. Here we propose a kaolinite shuttle which efficiently adsorbs phosphorus in continental weathering settings and releases it under marine conditions.

    • Weiduo Hao
    • , Kaarel Mänd
    •  & Kurt O. Konhauser
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Deforestation in the Amazon region has suggested to influence precipitation in a non-linear way. Here, the authors show that forest loss is associated with decreasing precipitation after a scale-dependent threshold is crossed, which can cause stress on agriculture if deforestation is expanded.

    • Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho
    • , Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho
    •  & Jan Börner
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Determining attractive response strategies for international climate policy is a complex task. Here, the authors develop a meta-model that disentangles the main uncertainties using full literature ranges and use it to directly compare the insights of the cost-minimising and cost-benefit modelling communities.

    • Kaj-Ivar van der Wijst
    • , Andries F. Hof
    •  & Detlef P. van Vuuren
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The assessment of soil sustainability in prehistoric times requires comparing millennium-scale erosion rates with geological background rates. Here, the authors apply in situ cosmogenic 14C, 10Be, and 26Al to reveal rapid soil erosion on the Andean Altiplano in response to Late Holocene climate change and the onset of agropastoralism.

    • Kristina Hippe
    • , John D. Jansen
    •  & David Lundbek Egholm
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The authors investigate the impacts of wildfires on fluvial networks in the western US. They find that wildfires directly impacted ~6% of the total stream length between 1984 and 2014. When longitudinal propagation was included, they estimate that wildfires affected ~11% of the total stream length.

    • Grady Ball
    • , Peter Regier
    •  & David Van Horn
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The COVID-19 response has led to unparalleled changes in the functioning of human society, from travel restrictions to changes in consumption. Here the authors use high resolution satellite data to track the global reduction in marine traffic during the pandemic, and more recent hints of recovery to pre-lockdown levels.

    • David March
    • , Kristian Metcalfe
    •  & Brendan J. Godley
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Microplastic pollution is a major threat to marine food webs, but the wider ranging impacts on global ocean biogeochemistry are poorly understood. Here the authors use an Earth system model to determine that zooplankton grazing on microplastics could exacerbate trends in ocean oxygen loss.

    • K. Kvale
    • , A. E. F. Prowe
    •  & A. Oschlies
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The global agrarian transition is characterized by a rise in large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs), whose energy impacts are unknown. Here, the authors assess how LSLAs change land use, finding that they necessitate greater investment in energy to meet demands, and greater greenhouse gas emissions.

    • Lorenzo Rosa
    • , Maria Cristina Rulli
    •  & Paolo D’Odorico
  • Article
    | Open Access

    This study investigates the relation between El Nino and landslide impacts. The authors show how El Nino and La Nina can cause swings in exposure of population to landslides that are as large as those due to rainy-season/dry-season variability in key locations, particularly South America.

    • Robert Emberson
    • , Dalia Kirschbaum
    •  & Thomas Stanley
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Many trajectories for reaching climate change mitigation targets exaggerate the long-term need for CO2 removal (CDR) because they assume an exponentially increasing carbon price. Here the authors analyse alternative carbon price pathways that halt warming while limiting CDR, and may be easier to implement.

    • Jessica Strefler
    • , Elmar Kriegler
    •  & Ottmar Edenhofer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The conditions that shaped Earth’s evolution during the Archaean and Proterozoic Eons remain unknown. Using Lake Towuti in Indonesia as an analog of early oceans the authors find that microbial methanogenesis exerts a strong influence with important implications for the composition of Earth’s early atmosphere.

    • André Friese
    • , Kohen Bauer
    •  & Jens Kallmeyer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Superfund sites have hazardous wastes that could affect the health of those who live near them, but this has not been assessed across the USA. Here the authors find that proximity to superfund sites decreases life expectancy and is further exacerbated by sociodemographic and climate change factors.

    • Amin Kiaghadi
    • , Hanadi S. Rifai
    •  & Clint N. Dawson
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Large fissure eruptions can cause air pollution events when the volcanic plume returns to the same area after the initial advisory has been lifted. Here, the authors show that these events had a significant impact on health care usage in Iceland, and the impact was exacerbated when advisories were not issued successfully.

    • Hanne Krage Carlsen
    • , Evgenia Ilyinskaya
    •  & Thorolfur Gudnason