Environmental sciences

  • Article
    | Open Access

    Climate warming is advancing spring leaf unfolding, but it is also reducing the cold periods that many trees require to break winter dormancy. Here, the authors show that 7 of 12 current chilling models fail to account for the correct relationship between chilling accumulation and heat requirement, leading to substantial overestimates of the advance of spring phenology under climate change.

    • Huanjiong Wang
    • , Chaoyang Wu
    •  & Quansheng Ge
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Coastal river delta regions are particularly impacted by the effects of climate change, yet though these regions are densely inhabited, robust estimates of population are lacking. Here the authors use global datasets to predict the number of people and regions most threatened by flooding and extreme weather.

    • Douglas A. Edmonds
    • , Rebecca L. Caldwell
    •  & Sacha M. O. Siani
  • Article
    | Open Access

    How to best allocate limited resources for conserving imperilled species is a difficult challenge. Here the authors analyse data on over 2000 threatened species from USA, Australia, and New Zealand, finding that on average half of the budget is allocated to research and monitoring. Species with higher budget allocation to research and monitoring tend to have poorer recovery outcomes.

    • Rachel T. Buxton
    • , Stephanie Avery-Gomm
    •  & Joseph R. Bennett
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Exposure to extreme events is a major concern in coastal regions where human populations and stressed ecosystems are at risk to such phenomena. Here the authors show a marine heatwave on the continental shelf resulted from a novel set of compounding effects due to a tropical storm followed by an atmospheric heatwave.

    • B. Dzwonkowski
    • , J. Coogan
    •  & T. Lee
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Due to legislative shortfalls, species of global conservation concern can still be captured in commercial fisheries. Here the authors show that 91 threatened species are reported in catch/landing databases, 13 of which are traded internationally despite their conservation concern.

    • Leslie A. Roberson
    • , Reg A. Watson
    •  & Carissa J. Klein
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Salvage logging has become a common practice to gain economic returns from naturally disturbed forests, but it could have considerable negative effects on biodiversity. Here the authors use a recently developed statistical method to estimate that ca. 75% of the naturally disturbed forest should be left unlogged to maintain 90% of the species unique to the area.

    • Simon Thorn
    • , Anne Chao
    •  & Alexandro B. Leverkus
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The early Eocene was characterized by exceptionally high global temperatures and no polar ice. Here, clumped isotope paleothermometry of glendonite calcite from the Danish Basin shows that these were formed in waters below 5 °C, indicating that regionalised cool episodes punctuated the background warmth of the early Eocene.

    • Madeleine L. Vickers
    • , Sabine K. Lengger
    •  & Christoph Korte
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Permafrost locks away the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, but climate warming threatens to thaw these systems. Here the authors use models to show that unconstrained fossil fuel burning will dramatically increase the amount of mercury released into future ecosystems.

    • Kevin Schaefer
    • , Yasin Elshorbany
    •  & Elsie M. Sunderland
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Mapping ecological variables using machine-learning algorithms based on remote-sensing data has become a widespread practice in ecology. Here, the authors use forest biomass mapping as a study case to show that the most common model validation approach, which ignores data spatial structure, leads to overoptimistic assessment of model predictive power.

    • Pierre Ploton
    • , Frédéric Mortier
    •  & Raphaël Pélissier
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Ecosystem Based Management measures developed to prevent overfishing could be particularly important under climate change. Here the authors combine climate and fish stock modelling to show that EBM cap implementation reduces climate-driven fishery declines under RCP 4.5 and 8.5 before midcentury. However, there are thermal tipping points beyond which potential collapses are predicted.

    • K. K. Holsman
    • , A. C. Haynie
    •  & A. E. Punt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The methane emissions from natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are unclear. Here the authors report high methane emissions from heavy-duty NGVs, and by using a scenario analysis show that strictly implementing the upcoming China VI standard could reduce GHG emissions by 509 Mt CO2eq for 2020-2030.

    • Da Pan
    • , Lei Tao
    •  & Mark A. Zondlo
  • Article
    | Open Access

    “How iodine-bearing molecules contribute to atmospheric aerosol formation is not well understood. Here, the authors provide a new gas-to-particle conversion mechanism and show that clustering of iodine oxides is an essential component of this process while previously proposed iodic acid does not play a large role.”

    • Juan Carlos Gómez Martín
    • , Thomas R. Lewis
    •  & Alfonso Saiz-Lopez
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Conversion of natural ecosystems to cropland is a threat to most native wildlife. Here the authors quantify the impact of recent cropland expansion on the habitat of representative pollinator, bird, plant species across the conterminous United States, showing diminished crop yield returns at the cost of important habitat losses.

    • Tyler J. Lark
    • , Seth A. Spawn
    •  & Holly K. Gibbs
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Renewable energy production is necessary to mitigate climate change, however, generating the required technologies and infrastructure will demand huge production increases of many metals. Here, the authors map mining areas and assess spatial coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites, and show that new mining threats to biodiversity may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.

    • Laura J. Sonter
    • , Marie C. Dade
    •  & Rick K. Valenta
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Global resources of heavy Rare Earth Elements (REE) are dominantly sourced from Chinese regolith-hosted ion-adsorption deposits, yet the adsorption mechanisms remain unclear. Here, the authors find that heavy REE are adsorbed as easily leachable 8-coordinated outer-sphere hydrated complexes, dominantly onto kaolinite, in clays from both China and Madagascar.

    • Anouk M. Borst
    • , Martin P. Smith
    •  & Kalotina Geraki
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Global largest agricultural ammonia (NH3) emissions in China have caused severe damage to both ecosystem and human health, yet no policy is formulated to reduce NH3 emissions. Here, the authors show that halving agricultural NH3 emissions with feasible technical mitigation options in China generates far more societal benefits than abatement costs.

    • Xiuming Zhang
    • , Baojing Gu
    •  & Deli Chen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Mangroves and the carbon they store are threatened by deforestation, but the efficacy of policies to protect them is unknown. Here the authors assess changes in mangrove carbon stocks between 1996 and 2016 and show less loss than previous methods estimated, indicating conservation has had a positive effect.

    • Daniel R. Richards
    • , Benjamin S. Thompson
    •  & Lahiru Wijedasa
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The risks posed by plastic contamination of the ocean cannot be assessed as their amount and location remain largely unknown. Here the authors show that large quantities of microplastics exist below the ocean surface over the entire Atlantic in quantities greater than previously estimated.

    • Katsiaryna Pabortsava
    •  & Richard S. Lampitt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    In anoxic environments, soluble hexavalent uranium is reduced and immobilized, however, the underlying molecular-scale reduction mechanism remains unknown. Here, the authors find that U reduction can occur on the surface of magnetite via transient U nanowire structures which collapse into ordered UO2 nanoclusters, which may have implications for understanding nuclear waste evolution and remediation of uranium contamination.

    • Zezhen Pan
    • , Barbora Bártová
    •  & Rizlan Bernier-Latmani
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Ocean warming could enable the release of methane related to hydrate dissociation from the ocean floor, a process thought to have triggered abrupt climate changes in Earth history. Here the authors detect this process in action, observing a massive release of methane from a site in the South Atlantic Ocean.

    • Marcelo Ketzer
    • , Daniel Praeg
    •  & José A. Cupertino
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Anthropogenic stressors affect many aspects of marine organismal health. Here, the authors expose surgeonfish to temperature and pesticide stressors and show that the stressors, separately and in combination, have adverse effects on thyroid signaling, which disrupts several sensory systems and important predation defenses.

    • Marc Besson
    • , William E. Feeney
    •  & David Lecchini
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Selective reduction of carbon dioxide to high-value products is key for advancing carbon capture and utilization technologies. Here the authors prepare a copper catalyst for electrocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to C2+ products with enhanced selectivity that is attributed to a high density of surface defects.

    • Taehee Kim
    •  & G. Tayhas R. Palmore
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Plastic pollution is a critical concern across diverse ecosystems, yet most research has focused on terrestrial and aquatic transport, neglecting other mechanisms. Here the authors show that atmospheric transport is a major pathway for road plastic pollution over remote regions.

    • N. Evangeliou
    • , H. Grythe
    •  & A. Stohl
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Monomethylmercury is a toxin that humans can be exposed to after consumption of seafood in which it has bioaccumulated. Here the authors show that amphipods in the deepest point of the global ocean contain monomethylmercury with surface origins, suggesting rapid sinking of this toxin on particles.

    • Ruoyu Sun
    • , Jingjing Yuan
    •  & Congqiang Liu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The authors here report tensile properties of polycrystalline methane hydrate at the micron scale by applying a contactless, thermos-induced stress to a tenuous shell of hydrate grown in a thin glass capillary. The results suggest that the cohesive strength of methane hydrate in marine settings may be an order of magnitude less than currently thought.

    • Dyhia Atig
    • , Daniel Broseta
    •  & Ross Brown
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The proliferation of dams since 1950 has promoted sediment deposition in reservoirs, which is thought to be starving the coast of sediment and decreasing resistance to storms and sea-level rise. Here, the authors show that century-long records of sediment mass accumulation rates and sediment accumulation rates more than doubled after 1950 in coastal depocenters around North America.

    • A. B. Rodriguez
    • , B. A. McKee
    •  & A. N. Atencio
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Glaciers in the European Alps are strongly affected by global warming, yet there is no methodologically consistent alpine-wide analysis on glacier changes. Here the authors show significant glacier retreat and an ice mass loss of 1.3 ± 0.2 Gt a−1, derived from contemporaneous measurements of glacier areas and elevations.

    • Christian Sommer
    • , Philipp Malz
    •  & Matthias H. Braun
  • Perspective
    | Open Access

    Current environmental impact mitigation neglects over-consumption from affluent citizens as a primary driver. The authors highlight the role of bottom-up movements to overcome structural economic growth imperatives spurring consumption by changing structures and culture towards safe and just systems.

    • Thomas Wiedmann
    • , Manfred Lenzen
    •  & Julia K. Steinberger
  • Article
    | Open Access

    A cloud of enhanced ruthenium concentrations has been observed over Europe in 2017, but no country has acknowledged responsibility for this nuclear release. Here, the authors show that the stable isotopic composition of ruthenium emitted from nuclear fuel reprocessing during the 2017 event is consistent with the isotopic signature of civilian Russian nuclear reactor fuel.

    • Timo Hopp
    • , Dorian Zok
    •  & Georg Steinhauser
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fire is an important component of many African ecosystems, but prediction of fire activity is challenging. Here, the authors use a statistical framework to assess the seasonal environmental drivers of African fire, which allow for a better prediction of fire activity.

    • Yan Yu
    • , Jiafu Mao
    •  & Yaoping Wang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    How sulfur dioxide emitted through coal combustion is oxidized to sulfate particles during winter haze pollution events has been the subject of debate. Here, the authors show that rapid oxidation takes place by nitrogen dioxide and nitrous acid, producing nitrous oxide together with sulfate.

    • Junfeng Wang
    • , Jingyi Li
    •  & Daniel J. Jacob
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Black carbon is a recalcitrant and unique form of organic carbon formed from incomplete combustion. Here the authors use global sampling to reduce uncertainty in the flux of terrestrial black carbon to the oceans, predicting that 34% of black carbon produced by fires has an oceanic fate.

    • Matthew W. Jones
    • , Alysha I. Coppola
    •  & Timothy A. Quine
  • Article
    | Open Access

    There lacks a method to measure the rapid changes of vehicle emissions. Here the authors proposed a big data approach ‘TrackATruck’, and their estimates using the new approach show that the heavy-duty trucks (HDT) emissions of primary cargo routes/terminals were underestimated by 2–10 times in proxy-based emission inventories.

    • Fanyuan Deng
    • , Zhaofeng Lv
    •  & Huan Liu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Plastic pollution has infiltrated every ecosystem, but few studies have quantified the biogeochemical or ecological effects of plastic. Here the authors show that microplastics in ocean sediment can significantly alter microbial community structure and nitrogen cycling.

    • Meredith E. Seeley
    • , Bongkeun Song
    •  & Robert C. Hale
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Here the authors develop a set of global, long-term, spatial projections of urban land expansion for understanding the planet’s potential urban futures. The global total amount of urban land increases by a factor of 1.8-5.9 over the 21st century, and the developed world experiences as much new urban development as the developing world.

    • Jing Gao
    •  & Brian C. O’Neill
  • Article
    | Open Access

    There lacks a spatially explicit mapping of global carbon footprint in China that considers both international and interprovincial trade. Here the authors map the carbon footprints of global regions in China and show the hotspots concentrated in key manufacturing hubs, including the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and North China Plain.

    • Yuantao Yang
    • , Shen Qu
    •  & Ming Xu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Generally it is thought that confining clay layers provide protection to low-arsenic groundwaters against intrusion of shallower, high-arsenic groundwater bodies. Here, the authors show that impermeable clay layers can increase arsenic input to underlying groundwater systems due to reduction of iron oxides coupled to carbon oxidation.

    • Ivan Mihajlov
    • , M. Rajib H. Mozumder
    •  & Alexander van Geen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    A primary element of modern wildfire management is to aggressively suppress small fires before they become large, but benefits can be offset by the fact that these practices promote older forests that are more ‘flammable’. Here the authors show that this downside puts numerous human communities at elevated risk of fires in boreal Canada.

    • Marc-André Parisien
    • , Quinn E. Barber
    •  & Sean A. Parks
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Countries are adopting ecological compensation policies aimed at achieving no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Here, Sonter and colleagues apply spatial simulation models to case studies in Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mozambique to show that compensation alone is not sufficient to preserve biodiversity.

    • Laura J. Sonter
    • , Jeremy S. Simmonds
    •  & Martine Maron
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Invasive plants can adversely affect ecosystems and economic costs. Here, the authors quantify the impact of the invasive plant Ambrosia artemisiifolia on seasonal allergies and health costs across Europe, finding that the costs are considerably higher than what previously reported, and estimate also the reduction in the number of patients and health costs that may be obtained with biological control

    • Urs Schaffner
    • , Sandro Steinbach
    •  & Heinz Müller-Schärer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The non-linear interaction between tide and non-tidal residual impacts current and future extreme water levels. Here, based on 620 gauge records, the authors find a large non-linear interaction in the US East Coast, North Sea and parts of southern Japan, that results in a reduction of extreme sea levels.

    • Arne Arns
    • , Thomas Wahl
    •  & Jürgen Jensen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Arctic plant growth is predominantly nitrogen limited, where the slow nitrogen turnover in the soil is commonly attributed to the cold arctic climate. Here the authors show that the arctic plant-soil nitrogen cycling is also constrained by the lack of larger detritivores like earthworms.

    • Gesche Blume-Werry
    • , Eveline J. Krab
    •  & Jonatan Klaminder
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Corals have evolved as finely tuned light collectors. Here, the authors report on the 3D printing of coral-inspired biomaterials, that mimic the coral-algal symbiosis; these bionic corals lead to dense microalgal growth and can find applications in algal biotechnology and applied coral science.

    • Daniel Wangpraseurt
    • , Shangting You
    •  & Silvia Vignolini