The Nine Climate Tipping Points


Picture: Greenpeace

As this article from the Independent reported earlier this week, scientists have identified nine way in which the Earth could be tipped into potentially dangerous conditions which are likely to be irreversible on a human timescale.

A tipping point is the critical threshold reached as a result of human induced climate change of which the smallest of changes could take us to the point-of-no-return so to speak.

Professor Timothy Lenton who led the study said . . . “But we should be prepared to adapt … and to design an early-warning system that alerts us to them in time.”

I wonder if Richard Branson will offer a substantial financial incentive for the designer who comes up with the best early-warning system that could detect the imminence of any of the given scenarios.

Anyway, here are the nine irreversible changes:

* Arctic sea ice: some scientists believe that the tipping point for the total loss of summer sea ice is imminent.

* Greenland ice sheet: total melting could take 300 years or more but the tipping point that could see irreversible change might occur within 50 years.

* West Antarctic ice sheet: scientists believe it could unexpectedly collapse if it slips into the sea at its warming edges.

* Gulf Stream: few scientists believe it could be switched off completely this century but its collapse is a possibility.

* El Niño: the southern Pacific current may be affected by warmer seas, resulting in far-reaching climate change.

* Indian monsoon: relies on temperature difference between land and sea, which could be tipped off-balance by pollutants that cause localised cooling.

* West African monsoon: in the past it has changed, causing the greening of the Sahara, but in the future it could cause droughts.

* Amazon rainforest: a warmer world and further deforestation may cause a collapse of the rain supporting this ecosystem.

* Boreal forests: cold-adapted trees of Siberia and Canada are dying as temperatures rise.


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3 Responses to The Nine Climate Tipping Points

  1. matt says:

    El Niño, the West African monsoon and droughts within the Amazon river system are already tipping. One they have missed to round it up to ten (which is connected to the boreal forests) is the warming up of the Siberian tundra and peat bogs. This is one of the big ones because of all the methane released which as a gas is way more potent than CO2.

    Professor Timothy Lenton is right that we need to focus on adaptation and mitigation because the climate changes are happening. No doubt there.

    Climate Change risk analysis and adaptation policy … a new job title for the 21st century.

  2. the Grit says:

    Hi y’all,

    May, might, could, great science there. You can, however, scratch a couple off the list as the Greenland ice mass is at record high levels and the Antarctic ice sheets also hit record highs last year. Oh, and if memory serves, Siberia and Canada are having near record cold winters at the moment, so that one’s a maybe at best. As to the Amazon forests, we can ignore that one too, since the locals will have clear cut it long before any climate change worries come into play. Still, just to keep the gloom and doom quotient filled, replace those with:

    We might all be killed when an asteroid hits Earth.

    Nuclear war looks ever more likely to break out, which will at least take our minds off the weather, those of us left anyway.

    Don’t forget all the antibiotic super germs that are making the rounds.

    There’s also a modest chance that global economic collapse is just around the corner.

    If you need more filler, wedge the continued spread of Islamic fanaticism into the worry list.

    And now that I’m in my happy place, a good deal of drinking hard liquor seems appropriate. Cheers!

    the Grit

  3. matt says:

    Mine’s a whisky. 🙂

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