Tipping points

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Explainer: Nine ‘tipping points’ that could be triggered by climate change Robert McSweeney; Carbon Brief; 10 Feb 2020

The persistent march of a warming climate is seen across a multitude of continuous, incremental changes. CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Ocean heat content. Global sea level rise. Each creeps up year after year, fuelled by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

And while climate records are being routinely broken, the cumulative impact of these changes could also cause fundamental parts of the Earth system to change dramatically and irreversibly.

These “tipping points” are thresholds where a tiny change could push a system into a completely new state.

Imagine a child pushing themselves from the top of a playground slide. There is a point beyond which it is too late for the child to stop themselves sliding down. Pass this threshold and the child continues inevitably towards a different state – at the bottom of the slide rather than the top.

In this article, Carbon Brief explores nine key tipping points across the Earth system, from collapsing ice sheets and thawing permafrost, to shifting monsoons and forest dieback.