Tipping point (climatology)

A climate tipping point is a point when global climate changes from one stable state to another stable state, in a similar manner to a wine glass tipping over. After the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass—standing up the glass will not put the wine back.

Global warming proceeds by changing the composition of gases in the Earth's atmosphere by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. As warming proceeds it brings about changes to the natural environment which may result in other changes. For example, warming may begin to melt the Greenland ice sheet. At some level of temperature rise, the melt of the entire ice sheet will become inevitable, even though complete melting may not occur for millennia. Thus a tipping point may be passed without any immediately obvious consequences. Nor does the use of tipping point necessarily imply any acceleration of the warming process.

James E. Hansen believes this point has already been reached with carbon dioxide levels currently at 391.7 ppm. "Further global warming of 1°C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know."[1] He has further suggested potential projections of Runaway climate change on Earth creating more Venus-like conditions in his book Storms of My Grandchildren.

Other scientists maintain the term is too vague for a non-linear system such as the Earth's climate, in which there may be transitions between several equilibrium states. It has been speculated that geoengineering may be used to reverse, prevent, or postpone a tipping point event.[citation needed]



Lenton et al. highlights a number of tipping points,[2] including:

See also


  1. ^ Earth in crisis, warns NASA's top climate scientist PhysOrg.com, April 07, 2008 . Accessed August 2008.
  2. ^ Lenton, T. M.; Held, H.; Kriegler, E.; Hall, J. W.; Lucht, W.; Rahmstorf, S.; Schellnhuber, H. J. (Feb 2008). "Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system" (Free full text). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (6): 1786–1793. Bibcode 2008PNAS..105.1786L. doi:10.1073/pnas.0705414105. PMC 2538841. PMID 18258748. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=18258748.  edit
  3. ^ Ian Sample (11 August 2005). "Warming hits 'tipping point'". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/aug/11/science.climatechange1. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 

External links

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