Skip to main content

Climate Tipping Points

The term ‘ tipping point’ commonly refers to a critical threshold at which a tiny perturbation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system.

Human activities may have the potential to push components of the Earth system past critical states into qualitatively different modes of operation, implying large-scale impacts on human and ecological systems. Examples that have received recent attention include the potential collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, dieback of the Amazon rainforest and decline of Arctic sea-ice. Such phenomena have been described as ‘tipping points’ following the popular notion that, at a particular time, a small change can have large, long-term consequences for a system ie ‘little things can make a big difference’.

The group's research looks at the identification of climate tipping points, whether it is possible to predict them by providing early warning methods and the implications of their findings on policy.

A special edition of AMBIO, 'The Arctic in the Earth System Perspective - The Role of Tipping Points', edited by Tim Lenton and Paul Wassmann examines Arctic climate tipping points in more detail.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate and its contribution to sea-level rise could have significant impact on societies this century.