To be able to curb the global pandemic of physical inactivity and the associated 5.3 million deaths per year, we need to understand the basic principles that govern physical activity. However, there is a lack of large-scale measurements of physical activity patterns across free-living populations worldwide. Here we leverage the wide usage of smartphones with built-in accelerometry to measure physical activity at the global scale. We study a dataset consisting of 68 million days of physical activity for 717,527 people, giving us a window into activity in 111 countries across the globe.

Growth in terrestrial gross primary production (GPP)—the amount of carbon dioxide that is ‘fixed’ into organic material through the photosynthesis of land plants—may provide a negative feedback for climate change. It remains uncertain, however, to what extent biogeochemical processes can suppress global GPP growth. As a consequence, modelling estimates of terrestrial carbon storage, and of feedbacks between the carbon cycle and climate, remain poorly constrained.

Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone.

During 2015–2016, record temperatures triggered a pan-tropical episode of coral bleaching, the third global-scale event since mass bleaching was first documented in the 1980s. Here we examine how and why the severity of recurrent major bleaching events has varied at multiple scales, using aerial and underwater surveys of Australian reefs combined with satellite-derived sea surface temperatures. The distinctive geographic footprints of recurrent bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002 and 2016 were determined by the spatial pattern of sea temperatures in each year.

Oil palm has a reputation as an environmental menace. Can the latest genetic research change that?

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Seven small planets whose surfaces could harbour liquid water have been spotted around a nearby dwarf star. If such a configuration is common in planetary systems, our Galaxy could be teeming with Earth-like planets.

The ocean is the largest sink for anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2), having absorbed roughly 40 per cent of CO2 emissions since the beginning of the industrial era. Recent data show that oceanic CO2 uptake rates have been growing over the past decade, reversing a trend of stagnant or declining carbon uptake during the 1990s. Here we show that ocean circulation variability is the primary driver of these changes in oceanic CO2 uptake over the past several decades.

The ocean's uptake of carbon dioxide increased during the 2000s. Models reveal that this was driven primarily by weak circulation in the upper ocean, solving a mystery of ocean science.

Researchers look into the future of the far North for clues to save species and maybe even bring back sea ice.

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An infection that struck wheat crops in Sicily last year is a new and unusually devastating strain of fungus, researchers say — and its spores may spread to infect this year’s harvests in Europe, the world’s largest wheat-producing region.

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