Climate change: Six tipping points ‘likely’ to be crossed

There Are Six Climate Change Tipping Points that Are “likely” to Be Passed

A new study warns that if global warming continues at its current pace, the planet will likely pass six “dangerous” climatic tipping points.

If these limits were breached, the Earth’s processes would be thrown into disarray, leading to the melting of ice sheets and the destruction of coral reefs.

Getting to that stage has been called a “climatic emergency” by experts in the field.

The study looked over 200 recent studies for evidence of tipping points.

They considered:

  • At what temperature the tipping points would be reached
  • What impacts there would be on Earth’s other systems
  • Over what timescales the impacts would be felt?

According to the findings of the study, which were derived from data that has been published since 2008, the globe is already at risk of triggering six severe climate tipping points at the current levels of global warming, and the dangers rise with each tenth of a degree of warming.

Climate change: Six tipping points ‘likely’ to be crossed

Even under the most optimistic scenario, the Climate Action Tracker projects that even if current global climate targets are achieved, the average temperature increase across the globe will be 1.8 degrees Celsius.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was the first to develop the concept of “climate tipping points” two decades ago.

In the event that they are exceeded, the UN warns that it might cause a “irreversible” shift in the Earth’s systems, including the oceans, weather, and chemical processes.

Once a tipping point is reached, the collapse of the system will continue even if the temperature does not rise anymore.

Similar to a ball that rolls over the top of a hill and continues to roll downhill, this phenomenon feeds upon itself.

Irreversible Cascade

Climate change: Six tipping points ‘likely’ to be crossed

At the time it was thought the tipping points would only be crossed if global average temperatures increased to more than 5C.

But since then there has been increasing evidence that these thresholds may be crossed much earlier.

The six tipping points “likely” to be crossed, according to the research, published in Science, are:

  • Greenland Ice Sheet collapse
  • West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse
  • The collapse of ocean circulation in the polar region of the North Atlantic
  • Coral reefs die off in the low latitudes
  • Sudden thawing of permafrost in the Northern regions
  • Abrupt sea ice loss in the Barents Sea.

According to the report’s lead author, David Armstrong McKay of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the University of Exeter, and the Earth Commission, the polar areas are showing early signs of the destabilization that precedes a system breakdown.

The United Nations has reported that Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice at a rate six times faster than it did 30 years ago and that Greenland’s ice sheet has been steadily diminishing for the last 25 years owing to climate change.

Some of the other “tipping points,” like dieback in the Amazon Rainforest, are not predicted to be triggered until global temperatures climb by 3.5C, but all of these systems are interconnected. Therefore, the chance of the collapse of further systems may grow after one system begins to fail.

Multiple Critical Thresholds

“Importantly,” added co-author Ricarda Winkelmann, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a member of the Earth Commission, “many tipping elements in the Earth system are interrelated, making cascading tipping points a critical additional issue.”

When ice sheets and sea ice are smaller or disappear altogether, for instance, less of the sun’s energy is reflected, which in turn increases global warming.

Climate change: Six tipping points ‘likely’ to be crossed

In addition to pinpointing these more dire dangers, the team recommended expanding the current list of possible tipping points from nine to sixteen.

The scientists used modern observations, the results of climate models, and paleoclimate data (from weather conditions thousands of years ago) to make these discoveries.

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In contrast, the El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other potential tipping points are no longer being studied due to a lack of supporting evidence.

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