Environmental sciences

  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fully quantifying the influence of vegetation on atmospheric chemistry remains challenging. Here, the authors show that forest canopy shading and turbulence significantly modify air pollution throughout the atmospheric boundary layer, and must be taken into account in models of the atmosphere.

    • P. A. Makar
    • , R. M. Staebler
    •  & Q. Zheng
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The damming of rivers has large impacts on the balance of riverine carbon (C) processes and fluxes to the oceans. Here, the authors use decadal riverine organic C loads and model C transformations to quantify in-reservoir organic C burial, mineralization and assess decreases in riverine exports to the oceans.

    • Taylor Maavara
    • , Ronny Lauerwald
    •  & Philippe Van Cappellen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Iron oxide nanoparticles contribute to shortwave absorption in the form of desert dust. Motekiet al. show that iron oxide particles of anthropogenic origin, potentially from motor vehicles and blast furnaces, also contribute to atmospheric heating over East Asia.

    • Nobuhiro Moteki
    • , Kouji Adachi
    •  & Yutaka Kondo
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Anthropogenic aerosol and calm conditions give rise to winter haze episodes in eastern China. Yanget al. show that these weak winds also decrease natural dust emissions, reducing the land–ocean temperature difference and associated winds, enhancing air stagnation and pollution in this region.

    • Yang Yang
    • , Lynn M. Russell
    •  & Steven J. Ghan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Secondary organic aerosols (SOA) are important for climate and aerosol quality, but the phase state is unclear. Here, the authors show that SOA is liquid in tropical and polar air, semi-solid in the mid-latitudes, solid over dry lands and in a glassy solid phase state in the middle and upper troposphere.

    • Manabu Shiraiwa
    • , Ying Li
    •  & Ulrich Pöschl
  • Article
    | Open Access

    COP21 led to a global commitment to decarbonization before 2100 to combat climate change, but leaves the timing and scale of mitigation efforts to individual countries. Here, the authors show that global carbon emissions need to peak within a decade to maintain realistic pathways for achieving the Paris Agreement.

    • Brian Walsh
    • , Philippe Ciais
    •  & Michael Obersteiner
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Changes in penguin populations on the Antarctic Peninsula in recent decades have been linked to environmental factors such as sea ice. Here, the authors show that penguin colony change on Ardley Island, NW Antarctic Peninsula during the last 8,500 years was primarily driven by volcanic activity.

    • Stephen J. Roberts
    • , Patrick Monien
    •  & Dominic A. Hodgson
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Quantifying the toxicity of herbicides applied in the field is difficult. Here, the author applies a quotient to evaluate changes in relative toxicity over the past 25 years and finds that increased herbicide use does not necessarily constitute increased toxicity.

    • Andrew R. Kniss
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Electron transfer reactions govern most biogeochemical processes, yet we have a limited knowledge of the electrochemistry of pyrogenic carbon, a major component of organic matter. Here, the authors quantify electron transfers between pyrogenic carbon and mineral phases under different pyrolysis temperatures.

    • Tianran Sun
    • , Barnaby D. A. Levin
    •  & Johannes Lehmann
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Coastal Louisiana wetlands face some of the world’s highest rates of relative sea-level rise and loss. Here, the authors show that there is a strong regional component to coastal Louisiana wetland vulnerability to relative sea-level rise as well as contributing to the understanding of subsidence in the region.

    • Krista L. Jankowski
    • , Torbjörn E Törnqvist
    •  & Anjali M Fernandes
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted by vegetation influence cloud formation, yet the impact of environmental stresses remains little known. Here, manipulation experiments reveal insect infestation and heat stress are linked to induced VOC and constitutive VOC emissions shifts, respectively.

    • D. F. Zhao
    • , A. Buchholz
    •  & Th. F. Mentel
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Marine plankton are the basis of the oceanic food chain. Here, Chivers and colleagues use ocean-basin wide plankton population data over six decades to show huge differences in the response of different plankton groups to climate change with major implications for the marine ecosystem and fisheries.

    • William J. Chivers
    • , Anthony W. Walne
    •  & Graeme C. Hays
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Despite their role in oceanic CaCO3production, the physiological processes responsible for calcification in foraminifera are poorly understood Here, the authors show that calcification is driven by rapid transformation of bicarbonate to carbonate inside the cytoplasm, achieved by active outward proton pumping.

    • Takashi Toyofuku
    • , Miki Y. Matsuo
    •  & Hiroshi Kitazato
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Glacial runoff often has relatively low dissolved silica concentrations and therefore ice sheets have been thought insignificant in the global silicon cycle. Here, the authors show that ice sheets likely play an important role in the production and export of dissolved and dissolvable amorphous silica downstream.

    • Jon R. Hawkings
    • , Jemma L. Wadham
    •  & Rob Raiswell
  • Article
    | Open Access

    A large proportion of methane emissions from natural gas production sites are released by a fraction of high-emitting sources. Here, using Monte Carlo simulations, the authors reveal that super-emitters occur due to abnormal process conditions, explaining component and site-based inventory discrepancies.

    • Daniel Zavala-Araiza
    • , Ramón A Alvarez
    •  & Steven P. Hamburg
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Forests impact continental-scale moisture recycling, but their impact on regional-scale cloud cover is little known. Here, using satellite observations, Teulinget al. illustrate enhanced cloud cover over regional forested areas in western Europe due to the establishment of a forest-breeze circulation.

    • Adriaan J. Teuling
    • , Christopher M. Taylor
    •  & Jordi Vilà-Guerau de Arellano
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fish migration is influenced by various environmental factors such as chemicals in water. Here, Hellstrom et al. show that an anxiolytic drug in the benzodiazepine family, oxazepam, can promote migratory behaviour of Atlantic salmon smolts in both laboratory setting and river tributary in Sweden.

    • Gustav Hellström
    • , Jonatan Klaminder
    •  & Tomas Brodin
  • Article
    | Open Access

    As shale and tight gas basins are increasingly used to extract natural gas, understanding how gas migrates is important. Wood and Sanei find that secondary migration in a tight-gas basin leads to up-dip transmission of enriched methane into surficial strata which may leak into groundwater and the atmosphere.

    • James M. Wood
    •  & Hamed Sanei
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Past volcanic eruptions along the densely populated Ethiopian Rift valley remain poorly constrained despite the present day hazard. Hutchison et al. show that a large volcanic flare up along a 200 km section of the rift occurred between 320–170 ka dramatically affecting the landscape and hominin population.

    • William Hutchison
    • , Raffaella Fusillo
    •  & Andrew T. Calvert
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Invasive insects impose many economic costs, for example by consuming crops and spreading disease. Here, Bradshaw et al. compile a database of the costs of invasive insects and conservatively estimate that the yearly global cost (in 2014-equivalent US dollars) is at least $70 billion for goods and services and $6.9 billion for human health.

    • Corey J. A. Bradshaw
    • , Boris Leroy
    •  & Franck Courchamp
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Megacities rely on groundwater from aquifers that may be over-exploited and be at risk of contamination. Khan et al. evaluate the complex aquifers supplying Dhaka, Bangladesh and show that extensive groundwater pumping could lead to unpredictable future arsenic contamination in deep aquifers outside the city.

    • Mahfuzur R. Khan
    • , Mohammad Koneshloo
    •  & Holly A. Michael
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Black carbon (BC) contributes positively to the radiation budget, yet models are unable to correctly capture its seasonal variability in the Arctic. Here, the authors demonstrate improved model skill in simulating BC concentration and sources when including estimates of BC emissions from fires.

    • P Winiger
    • , A Andersson
    •  & Ö. Gustafsson
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Human settlements are often associated with degraded landscapes. Trant and colleagues now show that near-shore settlements in British Columbia have locally enhanced forest productivity over millennia by enriching soils with calcium and phosphorous derived from shellfish remnants.

    • Andrew J. Trant
    • , Wiebe Nijland
    •  & Brian M. Starzomski
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Black carbon accelerates melting of glaciers in the Himalayas and Tibet, yet the source of these aerosols remains enigmatic. Here, the authors use isotope fingerprinting techniques to determine the origin of black carbon preserved in glacier ice cores recovered from the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.

    • Chaoliu Li
    • , Carme Bosch
    •  & Örjan Gustafsson
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Habitat loss and urbanization are primary components of human impact on the environment. Here, Venter et al.use global data on infrastructure, agriculture, and urbanization to show that the human footprint is growing slower than the human population, but footprints are increasing in biodiverse regions.

    • Oscar Venter
    • , Eric W. Sanderson
    •  & James E. M. Watson
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Cyanobacterial nitrogen fixation supplies bioavailable nitrogen to marine ecosystems, but the mechanisms governing iron and phosphorus co-limitation in elevated CO2remain unknown. Here, the authors show a complex cellular response to co-limitation characterized by changes in growth, cell size, and the proteome.

    • Nathan G. Walworth
    • , Fei-Xue Fu
    •  & David A. Hutchins
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Distinguishing between authigenic carbonate and primary marine carbonate is fundamental to our understanding of Earth’s carbon, oxygen and calcium cycles. Here, the authors show that a combination of uranium concentration and carbon isotope composition is able to distinguish between the two carbonate sinks.

    • Ming-Yu Zhao
    • , Yong-Fei Zheng
    •  & Yan-Yan Zhao
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The long-range atmospheric transport and deposition of reactive nitrogen may be affected by human activities. Here, the authors use isotope data to constrain sources of reactive nitrogen to high elevation lakes in the Uinta Mountains, finding that the majority originates from distant agricultural activities.

    • E. J. Hundey
    • , S. D. Russell
    •  & K. A. Moser
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Extremophiles on Earth are known to respire methane, and the potential existence of methane on Mars indicates similar organisms could survive there. Here, the authors present data from Martian meteorites confirming the presence of methane, indicating that a habitat capable of supporting organisms exists on Mars.

    • Nigel J. F. Blamey
    • , John Parnell
    •  & Roberta L. Flemming
  • Article |

    Selenium deficiency is a major health problem, particularly in the selenium-poor belt in China, yet its distribution in the terrestrial environment is poorly understood. Here, the authors combine geochemical and palaeoclimate data and show that selenium distribution in China may be related to East Asian monsoon rainfall.

    • Tim Blazina
    • , Youbin Sun
    •  & Lenny H.E. Winkel
  • Article |

    Plutonium and caesium radioisotopes have been injected into the atmosphere during nuclear weapon tests and via other anthropogenic sources. Alvarado et al. show that volcanic eruptions can redistribute those isotopes in the lower atmosphere, using the Eyjafjallajökull eruption as an example.

    • J. A. Corcho Alvarado
    • , P. Steinmann
    •  & P. Froidevaux
  • Article |

    The radioactive element uranium tends to accumulate in wetland soils in the insoluble and immobile tetravalent form. Wang et al. show that uranium(IV) can associate with highly mobile organic- and iron(II)-bearing colloids and that its mobility in organic-rich environments may be severely underestimated.

    • Yuheng Wang
    • , Manon Frutschi
    •  & Rizlan Bernier-Latmani
  • Article |

    Isoprene and monoterpenes, emitted by terrestrial plants, have an important role in both plant biology and environment, but they are poorly quantified at the ecosystem level. Peñuelas et al.show that the photochemical reflectance index can be used to indirectly estimate foliar isoprenoid emissions remotely.

    • Josep Peñuelas
    • , Giovanni Marino
    •  & Iolanda Filella
  • Article |

    Deep oceanic crust could host a wealth of microbial life, but biogeochemical reactions therein are poorly understood. Orcutt et al.combine measurements of sedimentary oxygen and pore water chemistry from basement crust with a reactive transport box model to shed light on oxygen consumption in basaltic crust.

    • Beth N. Orcutt
    • , C. Geoffrey Wheat
    •  & Wolfgang Bach
  • Article |

    Global environmental change is affecting the strength of interspecific interactions. The authors here estimate how much change species can tolerate before becoming extinct, and they find that species tolerance is very sensitive to the net direction of change.

    • Serguei Saavedra
    • , Rudolf P. Rohr
    •  & Jordi Bascompte
  • Article |

    The damaging effects of loud noise on auditory function are well established, but the effects of low-level noise are not so well understood. Zhou and Merzenich chronically expose adult rats to structured low-level noise and find that it causes auditory cortex damage and sound discrimination impairment.

    • Xiaoming Zhou
    •  & Michael M. Merzenich
  • Article |

    The night sky viewed from Earth is very bright at infrared wavelengths due to atmospheric emission, making land-based astronomy difficult in this spectral region. Here, a photonic filter is demonstrated to suppress this unwanted light, opening new paths to infrared astronomy with current and future telescopes.

    • J. Bland-Hawthorn
    • , S.C. Ellis
    •  & C. Trinh
  • Article |

    A crucial transition in the origin of life was the emergence of self-replicating RNA and its compartmentalization within protocellular structures. Here it is shown that the physicochemical properties of ice, a simple medium widespread on a temperate early earth, could have mediated this transition.

    • James Attwater
    • , Aniela Wochner
    •  & Philipp Holliger