Climate change disasters could be predicted

June 19, 2011, University of Exeter

Climate change disasters, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, dieback of the Amazon rainforest or collapse of the Atlantic overturning circulation, could be predicted according to University of Exeter research.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter shows that the 'tipping points' that trigger these disasters could be anticipated by looking for changes in climate behaviour.

Climate 'tipping points' are small changes that trigger a massive shift in climate systems, with potentially devastating consequences. It is already known that climate change caused by human activity could push several potential hazards past their 'tipping point'. However, it is often assumed that these 'tipping points' are entirely unpredictable.

Professor Lenton argues that a system of forecasting could be developed to enable some forewarning of high-risk tipping points. The approach he outlines involves analysing to look for signs that a is slowing down in its response to short-term natural variability (which we experience as the weather). This characteristic behaviour indicates the climate is becoming unstable, and is a common feature of systems approaching critical thresholds known as 'bifurcation points'.

Professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter said: "Many people assume that tipping points which could be passed as a result of human-induced are essentially unpredictable. Recent research shows that the situation is not as hopeless as it may seem: we have the tools to anticipate thresholds, which means we could give societies valuable time to adapt.

"Although these findings give us hope, we are still a long way from developing rigorous early warning systems for these climate hazards."

Explore further: Scientists warn on climate tipping points

More information: Early warning of climate tipping points, Timothy Lenton, Nature Climate Change 1 (3) , July 2011; online June 19, 2011.

Related Stories

Scientists warn on climate tipping points

March 17, 2009

( -- 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.

Tipping elements remain a 'hot' issue

August 24, 2009

( -- 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.

A new dawn for climate prediction

July 18, 2007

Scientists must develop new, more adaptive approaches to predicting and monitoring climate, say climate modellers from the University of Exeter. In a 'perspectives' article published in leading journal Science, Professor ...

Dramatic climate change is unpredictable

August 30, 2010

The fear that global temperature can change very quickly and cause dramatic climate changes that may have a disastrous impact on many countries and populations is great around the world. But what causes climate change and ...

Recommended for you

Jet stream changes since 1960s linked to more extreme weather

January 12, 2018

Increased fluctuations in the path of the North Atlantic jet stream since the 1960s coincide with more extreme weather events in Europe such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding, reports a University of Arizona-led ...

Global warming will expose millions more to floods

January 11, 2018

Global warming is expected to unleash more rain, exposing millions more people to river flooding particularly in the United States and parts of Asia, Africa and central Europe, researchers said Wednesday.

Maps that show travel times to cities all across the globe

January 11, 2018

An international team of researchers, including a representative from Google, has created a color-coded map of the planet that shows travel times to cities from other places. In their paper published in the journal Nature, ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (12) Jun 19, 2011
I agree that the "tipping points" can be predicted, how ever the predictions are going to be wrong and the effects of the "tipping Points" will be wrong. The science community is focusing too much and trying to fight over who is right or wrong. Human activity is having an affect on the planet, I am no arguing with that. I am however arguing that human activity is the cause of what is happening. It seams that the science community has too many members that are more worried about getting large funding from government grants. There is a large amount of money to be had by the group that finds the tech solution to the climate shifts, and populations will not argue much about a government that is spending large money on fixing a problem caused by people. But in all this fear mongering the reality is lost. The effects are being caused by solar activity, we already know this but we are ignoring it in exchange for money.
2.2 / 5 (10) Jun 19, 2011
If we look that the historical data that we know and the signs that are around us, it is too simple in my opinion. The Solar activity that is going on is affecting Earth's Geomagnetic field, this is affecting the behavior of everything on the planet. If we continue to bury our heads in the sand on this because we are being made to feel guilty then we are going to miss the only opportunity we have to be ready for the affects that are coming our way.
4 / 5 (12) Jun 19, 2011
"If we continue to bury our heads in the sand on this because we are being made to feel guilty then we are going to miss the only opportunity we have to be ready for the affects that are coming our way."
You are burying your head in the sand to say that the activity of the sun is solely responsible for climate change.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of world-class scientists concur that human industries, burning fossil fuels, agro-business, and deforestation are destroying our planet. This new tendency for "scapegoating" the sun is idiotic,and is just as insidious as saying global warming is a hoax.
4 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2011
MRyan I gotta ask... you deniers tend to be the first to post on each article that falls on this topic. One might think you are being paid to monitor and post on this site. Shill?
3 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2011
Truth is that the Earth is warming. It's not an opinion - it is a semi-closed system in space that is bombarded 24/7/365 with solar radiation and whatever it lets through the atmosphere and isn't reflected, remains captive, increasing the thermal (KE) energy of the planet in perpetuity. Not a thing we can do about it, the least of which would be worrying.

When confronted with economic disaster, hardly anyone is worried about said global condition, so the Environazi's, ranging from the "Chicken Little" tree huggers to the politically motivated profiteers like Al Gore and GE are starting to get panicky, watching this power grab slip through their fingers, a stiff reminder of the Ice Age predicted in the 1970s and 1980s, that never was in spite of the "crisis potential".

So, what does a crazy half-cocked demographic do when their voices are muted by their own irrelevance? Why, they scream louder and propose even even nastier, less sane ideas!
1 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2011
No I am not paid, and no I am not saying that the Solar activity is the only cause. Yes there are many top scientists that are saying that humans are responsible. How ever I think back and remember that at one time all the top scientists believed that Earth was flat and at the canter of the universe. I am not a sheep and will not be quiet simply because I am out numbered by sheep. Fudged numbers and data that was collected by devises that are grossly outdated, are not enough for me to fall in line.
1 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2011
Also, if there is anyone that knows of organizations that are willing to pay for my posts, then please tell me. I would love an opportunity to improve my families financial standing, and if I can get paid for just posting my views and beliefs, heck I am game.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2011
How ever I think back and remember that at one time all the top scientists believed that Earth was..

Nice try!

This was a Victorian created myth. We have known the earth was round ever since sailors sailed the sees and could observ the curveture of the earth at the horizon.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.