Today is Earth Day.

Climate change is  one of the largest potential threats to humanity, and one of the most hotly debated political topics around the globe. But, progress in improving our environment (at both a local and global level) is comparatively slow. Earth Day therefore seeks to raise awareness in environmental issues and help to drive change in communities – all for the protection of our environment, and to reduce our impact on the global climate.

To mark this day, governments around the world put pen to paper to sign the Paris agreement, a landmark agreement to reduce the impact of climate change.

Whilst it is politicians and the public that must drive the desire to be ‘green’, scientists have a huge part to play to ensure we have the technology and understanding to make it happen. Open Access international journals like Environmental Research Letters (ERL) and blogs like Environmental Research Web (ERW) provide an important outlet for this work.

NASA Earth's Light

One such example in ERL used data similar to the famous image above to understand urbanisation:

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory built a globally consistent, time-sensitive, and updateable urban extent map from nightlights data gathered from satellites about 500 miles above the Earth. Their findings reveal patterns of global urban extent from national to global scales.

This work helps us understand pressures on natural resources near urban areas as well as the effects of a growing urban population. Other works in the news look at the impact of things like Sarahan dust, the thawing permafrost, or how ocean temperatures affect tornadoes. Naturally these are the ones that grab headlines, but research in topics like desertification, farming and deforestation is vital for us to develop a sustainable future.

Whilst this type of research is the most visible part of scientific output and oft quoted by the press, there is a desire in many fields to develop greener and more efficient technologies. Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics is at the forefront of this in physics with a its new renewable and sustainable energy section led by Anna Fontcuberta i Morral. But it isn’t just energy we look at. Research into reducing our reliance on rare-earth elements, reducing waste and improving efficiencies at the lab scale will have profound effects on improving our global environment in years to come. In fact, even seemingly disconnected topics like quantum computing and superconductivity could drastically reduce the energy draw of high-technology applications.

Such lab based work often focusses on novel materials, such as a recent JPCM special issue on the theory of solar energy materials:

“Many of the properties that control the efficiency of materials for solar energy conversion firmly belong to the realm of condensed matter physics: structures of crystalline and amorphous solids; their surfaces and interfaces; light absorption; charge transport in bulk materials; electron and hole trapping; charge transfer and reactions at interfaces. Fundamental studies of these processes are essential for understanding materials’ properties and designing new materials with better efficiencies.”

Guest Editor Natalia Martsinovich (University of Sheffield)

So this Earth Day spread awareness about the importance of your local environment and the global climate. But also remember the importance of scientific development to reduce our reliance on damaging technologies and to aid our understanding of the world we live in.

CC-BY logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Title image credit: From NASA. Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC. Reused here under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Categories: Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, JPhys+

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