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Unpicking the implications of tipping points

Unpicking the implications of tipping points

ice tipping point (NASA)

Briefing note prepared by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes have prepared a briefing note to explain climate tipping points and their implications for what we understand about climate science.

A tipping point refers to a critical threshold beyond which components of the Earth rapidly move to a new state. Such tipping points lead to an abrupt, and often irreversible change that is much faster than the climate trend that is forcing the change. 

Examples of potential future tipping points with harmful societal consequences include ice sheet collapse, permafrost thaw, slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (including the Gulf Stream and thermohaline circulation with the deep ocean), ocean deoxygenation, ocean acidification and die-back of the Amazon rainforest.

As the timescales around the initiation of tipping points are not well known and difficult to simulate, researchers say that global negotiations around climate change have not appropriately taken into account the risks of initiating tipping points. They urge better integration of probability into future forecasts and models, as well as the immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.


Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre (CC BY 2.0).

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