Have we passed a tipping point?

Article by Hazell Ransome.

When we say a system has crossed a tipping point, we mean it has been changed so much that in the future an unavoidable change will happen and it will not be able to return to its natural state [1,2].

Until recently, scientists thought that it was unlikely that we would pass any global-scale climate tipping points this century [3]. However, there is now increasing evidence and agreement that we are closer to crossing tipping points than we thought [4,5].

Over 30 possible tipping points have been discovered by scientists [6]. These include more severe and more frequent “El Niño” events [7,8] (unusual changes in air pressure at the surface of the Pacific ocean [9,10]). This has knock-on effects around the globe, including increased droughts in Indonesia, India and some parts of Brazil, and increased flooding in Peru [11,12].

Another example is the melting of ice sheets (huge areas of ice resting on land [13]) in Greenland and Antarctica [14]. If the ice sheets lose too much ice, they will pass a tipping point [15,16] from which it’s impossible to stop the remaining ice from melting too [1,15]. This would lead to sea level rise of several metres in the next few hundred years [17].

If you swipe across you’ll see a map of these and other tipping points [18]. In the next few posts we’ll look at 2 more examples of tipping points.


[1] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/105/6/1786.full.pdf (Abstract)

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/ (Tipping Points and Irreversibility)

[3] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_all_final.pdf (Page 129 Paragraph 4)

[4] https://www.uu.nl/sites/default/files/lenton_2011.pdf (Introduction Paragraph 1)

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0 (Paragraph 1)

[6] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/112/43/E5777.full.pdf (Abstract)

[7] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/105/6/1786.full.pdf (El Nino-Southern Oscillation)

[8] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-3/ ( Section EL Nino Southern Oscillation)

[9] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/ (ENSO)

[10] https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/oceans/el-nino (Video 1st minute)

[11] https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/oceans/el-nino (Video 3rd minute)

[12] https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40536039.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_SYC-4802%252Fcontrol&refreqid=excelsior%3A2e0ba11ffacc690450a37eeb189d9f21 (Page 20578 Paragraph 3)

[13] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/ Glossary of IPCC 1.5 Special Report, 2018 (Ice Sheets)

[14] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0 (Ice Collapse)

[15] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0 (Ice Collapse Paragraph 2)

[16] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/105/6/1786.full.pdf (GIS and WIS and Table 1 Line 2)

[17] https://www.pnas.org/content/106/11/4133 (Risks of Large-Scale Discontinuities page 4135)

[18] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/105/6/1786.full.pdf (Figure 1)

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