Tipping elements remain a 'hot' issue

Aug 24, 2009
Tipping elements remain a 'hot' issue

(PhysOrg.com) -- Research published by climate scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been named one of the most highly-cited in its field in the last two years.

The article, 'Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system', appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February 2008 and was this month named a 'New Hot Paper' by Thomson Reuters.

"The article captures the zeitgeist of a growing group of climate scientists who perceive that human activities are already pushing Earth's climate past regional tipping points," said lead author Prof Tim Lenton of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences.

Prof Lenton's team worked closely on the research with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

The researchers introduced the term ''tipping element'' to describe large-scale components of the Earth system that may be pushed past critical thresholds by anthropogenic forcing of the . On the verge of tipping, tiny perturbations could have large long-term consequences on human and ecological systems.

The work has profound economic and political implications and was named Research Project of the Year 2008 by the Times Higher Education newspaper.

"Our paper has sensitized the public to the possibility of highly nonlinear reactions of nature to human interference with the climate system," said Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK.

An example of a tipping element is the Arctic sea-ice. As sea-ice melts, it exposes a much darker ocean surface, which absorbs more radiation from the sun. This in turn amplifies the warming, decreases ice formation in winter, and causes more rapid melting in summer. The long-term trend in summer ice extent indicates a decline of 3.3 per cent for the last three decades. As reported in the Tipping Elements paper, there could be a nonlinear transition to a new stable state with no during summer within a few decades. The critical threshold global mean warming may be between 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius and could already have been passed. Earth is about to lose the cooling white reflector for arctic summer sunlight and this could enhance global warming.
[For daily image update from National Snow and Ice Data Center, click here: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/]

"We have been living under the illusion that climate change will be a smooth process. Our paper shatters that illusion," said Prof Lenton. "Large regions of the planet may undergo profound changes in state that in some cases are rapid and often are irreversible, with impacts on many millions of people."

Prof Schellnhuber added: "I guess we have added a relevant piece to the now compelling scientific evidence that one needs to confine global warming to two degrees Celsius if you wish to have a fair chance of avoiding unmanageable climate risks."

The researchers identified the common dynamics underlying nine of these tipping elements, including tropical monsoons, the Amazon rainforest, ocean circulation, and the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica.

"This helps bring together the interests and concerns of specialists in quite different fields including climatology, ecology, oceanography and glaciology," said Prof Lenton.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber had introduced the overall tipping-points concept into the scientific community. The specific research generating the paper began with a workshop at the British Embassy in Berlin in October 2005, which brought together UK and German scientists to debate and begin to identify the potential tipping points in the climate system. A process led by co-authors Elmar Kriegler and Jim Hall of eliciting responses from more international experts continued through the following year. Tim Lenton led a comprehensive review of the literature.

"The greatest challenge along the way was reconciling the inputs from a diverse group of co-authors, an even wider pool of expert opinions, and a huge body of literature," Lenton and Schellnhuber stated in an interview published on the Thomson Reuters 'Science Watch' website today.

More information: Lenton, T., H. Held, E. Kriegler, J. Hall, W. Lucht, S. Rahmstorf, and H. J. Schellnhuber, 2008: Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system. , 105, 1786-1793.

Source: University of East Anglia

Explore further: Scientists stalk coastal killer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system

Feb 04, 2008

Anthropogenic forcing could push the Earth’s climate system past critical thresholds, so that important components may “tip” into qualitatively different modes of operation. In the renowned magazine ...

Scientists warn on climate tipping points

Mar 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A survey of top climate scientists has revealed there is a real chance of key climate tipping points being passed with serious consequences for the planet.

'Calm before storm' may foreshadow climatic tipping point

Sep 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Abrupt climate change has occurred on earth many times over the past millions of years. Climate scientists hypothesize that these sharp transitions may be caused when the earth system reaches ...

Arctic global warming may be irreversible

Mar 14, 2006

Scientists, noting sea ice in the Arctic has failed to form for the second consecutive winter, fear global warming may be irreversible in polar areas.

Arctic Sea Ice Decline May Trigger Climate Change Cascade

Mar 15, 2007

Arctic sea ice that has been dwindling for several decades may have reached a tipping point that could trigger a cascade of climate change reaching into Earth's temperate regions, says a new University of Colorado at Boulder ...

Recommended for you

Scientists stalk coastal killer

21 minutes ago

For much of Wednesday, a small group of volunteers and researchers walked in and out of the surf testing a new form of surveillance on the biggest killer of beach swimmers - rip currents.

Fires in Central Africa During July 2014

14 hours ago

Hundreds of fires covered central Africa in mid-July 2014, as the annual fire season continues across the region. Multiple red hotspots, which indicate areas of increased temperatures, are heavily sprinkled ...

NASA's HS3 mission spotlight: The HIRAD instrument

Jul 24, 2014

The Hurricane Imaging Radiometer, known as HIRAD, will fly aboard one of two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft during NASA's Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel or HS3 mission from Wallops beginning August 26 through ...

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

earls
5 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2009
We are the catalyst, not the cause, save the cheerleader, save the world.
omatumr
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2009
ALL ABOARD THE ANTHROPOGENIC FORCING GRAVY TRAIN!

This news item, the number of researchers involved, and the publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, remind me that it is not difficult to get hungry scientists abord a gravy train so long as NAS pours out the gravy.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com
lengould100
not rated yet Aug 25, 2009
omatumr: Awwww, wassa matter? You upset now because the only people supporting anti-AGW crowds are a bunch of hack "researchers" at industry-supported "think tanks" who only self-publish their directed "thoughts", never putting anything in peer-reviewed journals?
omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
A FEW PAPERS IN PEER-REVIEWED JOURNALS

1. "Super-fluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate", Journal of Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002).
http://arxiv.org/.../0501441

2. "Nuclear systematics: Part IV. Neutron-capture cross sections and solar abundance", Journal of Radioanalytical & Nuclear Chemistry 266, 159-163 (2005); DOI: 10.1007/s10967-005-0887-2
http://tinyurl.com/2oeg3n

3. "On the Cosmic Nuclear Cycle and the Similarity of Nuclei and Stars",
Journal of Fusion Energy 25, 107-114 (2006);
DOI:10.1007/s10894-006-9009-6
http://xxx.lanl.g.../0511051

4. "The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass", Physics of Atomic Nuclei 69, number 11, pp. 1847-1856 (2006);
Yadernaya Fizika (Russian) 69, number 11 (2006)
http://arxiv.org/.../0609509

5. "EARTH'S HEAT SOURCE - THE SUN", Energy and Environment 20, 131-144 (2009) http://arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com

lengould100
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
omaturm: Oh good, we're saved ... by an engineering affiliate at U of Arkansas publishing an article on isotope separation in stars? Maybe not.

I'll wait until real climatologists evaluate and make the case.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
len, there are still thousands of mainstream climate scientists and geologists who speak to the falsehoods of AGW research and modelling. One prime example John Christy.

I can go on and on with a huge list of names but it's a waste of time. You have your views and sources, I have my views and sources.
GrayMouser
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
omaturm: Oh good, we're saved ... by an engineering affiliate at U of Arkansas publishing an article on isotope separation in stars? Maybe not.

I'll wait until real climatologists evaluate and make the case.


Like the guestimated 20% of the IPCC that are involved in climate research (even slightly involved)?