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Journal: Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences


We projected changes in weather extremes, hydrological impacts and vulnerability to food insecurity at global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C relative to pre-industrial, using a new global atmospheric general circulation model HadGEM3A-GA3.0 driven by patterns of sea-surface temperatures and sea ice from selected members of the 5th Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) ensemble, forced with the RCP8.5 concentration scenario. To provide more detailed representations of climate processes and impacts, the spatial resolution was N216 (approx. 60 km grid length in mid-latitudes), a higher resolution than the CMIP5 models. We used a set of impacts-relevant indices and a global land surface model to examine the projected changes in weather extremes and their implications for freshwater availability and vulnerability to food insecurity. Uncertainties in regional climate responses are assessed, examining ranges of outcomes in impacts to inform risk assessments. Despite some degree of inconsistency between components of the study due to the need to correct for systematic biases in some aspects, the outcomes from different ensemble members could be compared for several different indicators. The projections for weather extremes indices and biophysical impacts quantities support expectations that the magnitude of change is generally larger for 2°C global warming than 1.5°C. Hot extremes become even hotter, with increases being more intense than seen in CMIP5 projections. Precipitation-related extremes show more geographical variation with some increases and some decreases in both heavy precipitation and drought. There are substantial regional uncertainties in hydrological impacts at local scales due to different climate models producing different outcomes. Nevertheless, hydrological impacts generally point towards wetter conditions on average, with increased mean river flows, longer heavy rainfall events, particularly in South and East Asia with the most extreme projections suggesting more than a doubling of flows in the Ganges at 2°C global warming. Some areas are projected to experience shorter meteorological drought events and less severe low flows, although longer droughts and/or decreases in low flows are projected in many other areas, particularly southern Africa and South America. Flows in the Amazon are projected to decline by up to 25%. Increases in either heavy rainfall or drought events imply increased vulnerability to food insecurity, but if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, this vulnerability is projected to remain smaller than at 2°C global warming in approximately 76% of developing countries. At 2°C, four countries are projected to reach unprecedented levels of vulnerability to food insecurity.This article is part of the theme issue ‘The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.


Isaac Newton’s reputation was initially established by his 1672 paper on the refraction of light through a prism; this is now seen as a ground-breaking account and the foundation of modern optics. In it, he claimed to refute Cartesian ideas of light modification by definitively demonstrating that the refrangibility of a ray is linked to its colour, hence arguing that colour is an intrinsic property of light and does not arise from passing through a medium. Newton’s later significance as a world-famous scientific genius and the apparent confirmation of his experimental results have tended to obscure the realities of his reception at the time. This paper explores the rhetorical strategies Newton deployed to convince his audience that his conclusions were certain and unchallengeable. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Optics, Physics, Light, Rainbow, Robert Hooke, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, Royal Society


The current interest in big data, machine learning and data analytics has generated the widespread impression that such methods are capable of solving most problems without the need for conventional scientific methods of inquiry. Interest in these methods is intensifying, accelerated by the ease with which digitized data can be acquired in virtually all fields of endeavour, from science, healthcare and cybersecurity to economics, social sciences and the humanities. In multiscale modelling, machine learning appears to provide a shortcut to reveal correlations of arbitrary complexity between processes at the atomic, molecular, meso- and macroscales. Here, we point out the weaknesses of pure big data approaches with particular focus on biology and medicine, which fail to provide conceptual accounts for the processes to which they are applied. No matter their ‘depth’ and the sophistication of data-driven methods, such as artificial neural nets, in the end they merely fit curves to existing data. Not only do these methods invariably require far larger quantities of data than anticipated by big data aficionados in order to produce statistically reliable results, but they can also fail in circumstances beyond the range of the data used to train them because they are not designed to model the structural characteristics of the underlying system. We argue that it is vital to use theory as a guide to experimental design for maximal efficiency of data collection and to produce reliable predictive models and conceptual knowledge. Rather than continuing to fund, pursue and promote ‘blind’ big data projects with massive budgets, we call for more funding to be allocated to the elucidation of the multiscale and stochastic processes controlling the behaviour of complex systems, including those of life, medicine and healthcare.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Multiscale modelling at the physics-chemistry-biology interface’.

Concepts: Scientific method, Statistics, Science, Artificial intelligence, Knowledge, Social sciences, Artificial neural network, Humanities


Cenozoic temperature, sea level and CO2 covariations provide insights into climate sensitivity to external forcings and sea-level sensitivity to climate change. Climate sensitivity depends on the initial climate state, but potentially can be accurately inferred from precise palaeoclimate data. Pleistocene climate oscillations yield a fast-feedback climate sensitivity of 3±1(°)C for a 4 W m(-2) CO2 forcing if Holocene warming relative to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) is used as calibration, but the error (uncertainty) is substantial and partly subjective because of poorly defined LGM global temperature and possible human influences in the Holocene. Glacial-to-interglacial climate change leading to the prior (Eemian) interglacial is less ambiguous and implies a sensitivity in the upper part of the above range, i.e. 3-4(°)C for a 4 W m(-2) CO2 forcing. Slow feedbacks, especially change of ice sheet size and atmospheric CO2, amplify the total Earth system sensitivity by an amount that depends on the time scale considered. Ice sheet response time is poorly defined, but we show that the slow response and hysteresis in prevailing ice sheet models are exaggerated. We use a global model, simplified to essential processes, to investigate state dependence of climate sensitivity, finding an increased sensitivity towards warmer climates, as low cloud cover is diminished and increased water vapour elevates the tropopause. Burning all fossil fuels, we conclude, would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans, thus calling into question strategies that emphasize adaptation to climate change.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Water, Climate, Climate change, Greenhouse gas, Pleistocene, Ice age, Global warming


The effects of rapid Arctic warming and ice loss on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere is a topic of active research, lively scientific debate and high societal impact. The emergence of Arctic amplification-the enhanced sensitivity of high-latitude temperature to global warming-in only the last 10-20 years presents a challenge to identifying statistically robust atmospheric responses using observations. Several recent studies have proposed and demonstrated new mechanisms by which the changing Arctic may be affecting weather patterns in mid-latitudes, and these linkages differ fundamentally from tropics/jet-stream interactions through the transfer of wave energy. In this study, new metrics and evidence are presented that suggest disproportionate Arctic warming-and resulting weakening of the poleward temperature gradient-is causing the Northern Hemisphere circulation to assume a more meridional character (i.e. wavier), although not uniformly in space or by season, and that highly amplified jet-stream patterns are occurring more frequently. Further analysis based on self-organizing maps supports this finding. These changes in circulation are expected to lead to persistent weather patterns that are known to cause extreme weather events. As emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, therefore, the continued amplification of Arctic warming should favour an increased occurrence of extreme events caused by prolonged weather conditions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Causality, Climate, Weather, Emergence, Season, Global warming, Extreme weather


Empirical evidence suggests that variations in climate affect economic growth across countries over time. However, little is known about the relative impacts of climate change on economic outcomes when global mean surface temperature (GMST) is stabilized at 1.5°C or 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial levels. Here we use a new set of climate simulations under 1.5°C and 2°C warming from the ‘Half a degree Additional warming, Prognosis and Projected Impacts’ (HAPPI) project to assess changes in economic growth using empirical estimates of climate impacts in a global panel dataset. Panel estimation results that are robust to outliers and breaks suggest that within-year variability of monthly temperatures and precipitation has little effect on economic growth beyond global nonlinear temperature effects. While expected temperature changes under a GMST increase of 1.5°C lead to proportionally higher warming in the Northern Hemisphere, the projected impact on economic growth is larger in the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere. Accounting for econometric estimation and climate uncertainty, the projected impacts on economic growth of 1.5°C warming are close to indistinguishable from current climate conditions, while 2°C warming suggests statistically lower economic growth for a large set of countries (median projected annual growth up to 2% lower). Level projections of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita exhibit high uncertainties, with median projected global average GDP per capita approximately 5% lower at the end of the century under 2°C warming relative to 1.5°C. The correlation between climate-induced reductions in per capita GDP growth and national income levels is significant at the p < 0.001 level, with lower-income countries experiencing greater losses, which may increase economic inequality between countries and is relevant to discussions of loss and damage under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.This article is part of the theme issue 'The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels'.


The British Isles benefits from dense meteorological observation networks, enabling insights into the still-unresolved effects of solar eclipse events on the near-surface wind field. The near-surface effects of the solar eclipse of 20 March 2015 are derived through comparison of output from the Met Office’s operational weather forecast model (which is ignorant of the eclipse) with data from two meteorological networks: the Met Office’s land surface station (MIDAS) network and a roadside measurement network operated by Vaisala. Synoptic-evolution relative calculations reveal the cooling and increase in relative humidity almost universally attributed to eclipse events. In addition, a slackening of wind speeds by up to about 2 knots in already weak winds and backing in wind direction of about 20° under clear skies across middle England are attributed to the eclipse event. The slackening of wind speed is consistent with the previously reported boundary layer stabilization during eclipse events. Wind direction changes have previously been attributed to a large-scale ‘eclipse-induced cold-cored cyclone’, mountain slope flows, and changes in the strength of sea breezes. A new explanation is proposed here by analogy with nocturnal wind changes at sunset and shown to predict direction changes consistent with those observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Wind, Wind power, British Isles, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


Abundant supplies of oil form the foundation of modern industrial economies, but the capacity to maintain and grow global supply is attracting increasing concern. Some commentators forecast a peak in the near future and a subsequent terminal decline in global oil production, while others highlight the recent growth in ‘tight oil’ production and the scope for developing unconventional resources. There are disagreements over the size, cost and recoverability of different resources, the technical and economic potential of different technologies, the contribution of different factors to market trends and the economic implications of reduced supply. Few debates are more important, more contentious, more wide-ranging or more confused. This paper summarizes the main concepts, terms, issues and evidence that are necessary to understand the ‘peak oil’ debate. These include: the origin, nature and classification of oil resources; the trends in oil production and discoveries; the typical production profiles of oil fields, basins and producing regions; the mechanisms underlying those profiles; the extent of depletion of conventional oil; the risk of an approaching peak in global production; and the potential of various mitigation options. The aim is to introduce the subject to non-specialist readers and provide a basis for the subsequent papers in this Theme Issue.

Concepts: Petroleum, Future, Saudi Arabia, Peak oil, Economic growth, Oil shale, Oil reserves, Unconventional oil


The National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx) was a citizen science project designed to assess the effects of the 20 March 2015 partial solar eclipse on the weather over the United Kingdom (UK). NEWEx had two principal objectives: to provide a spatial network of meteorological observations across the UK to aid the investigation of eclipse-induced weather changes, and to develop a nationwide public engagement activity-based participation of citizen scientists. In total, NEWEx collected 15 606 observations of air temperature, cloudiness and wind speed and direction from 309 locations across the UK, over a 3 h window spanning the eclipse period. The headline results were processed in near real time, immediately published online, and featured in UK national press articles on the day of the eclipse. Here, we describe the technical development of NEWEx and how the observations provided by the citizen scientists were analysed. By comparing the results of the NEWEx analyses with results from other investigations of the same eclipse using different observational networks, including measurements from the University of Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory, we demonstrate that NEWEx provided a fair representation of the change in the UK meteorological conditions throughout the eclipse. Despite the simplicity of the approach adopted, robust reductions in both temperature and wind speed during the eclipse were observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, United Kingdom, Lunar eclipse, Meteorology, Wind, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


Experimental data are shown for survival of fossilized diatoms undergoing shocks in the GPa range. The results were obtained from hypervelocity impact experiments which fired fossilized diatoms frozen in ice into water targets. After the shots, the material recovered from the target water was inspected for diatom fossils. Nine shots were carried out, at speeds from 0.388 to 5.34 km s(-1), corresponding to mean peak pressures of 0.2-19 GPa. In all cases, fragmented fossilized diatoms were recovered, but both the mean and the maximum fragment size decreased with increasing impact speed and hence peak pressure. Examples of intact diatoms were found after the impacts, even in some of the higher speed shots, but their frequency and size decreased significantly at the higher speeds. This is the first demonstration that fossils can survive and be transferred from projectile to target in hypervelocity impacts, implying that it is possible that, as suggested by other authors, terrestrial rocks ejected from the Earth by giant impacts from space, and which then strike the Moon, may successfully transfer terrestrial fossils to the Moon.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Physical quantities, Pressure, Velocity, Projectile, Impact crater, Hypervelocity