Monday, July 9, 2012

Environmental Tipping Points

We must act now to avoid the tipping points of runaway global warming. A tipping point occurs when climate changes pass a "critical threshold at which a small change in human activity can have a large, long-term consequence for the Earth's climate system." As opposed the gradual, long-term warming trend, such a tipping point could accelerate or change the effects already being perceived due to global warming. Researchers have identified nine possible tipping points: The Indian summer monsoon; Arctic sea ice, the Sahara and Sahel in Africa could change dramatically, the Amazon rainforest could die back significantly, the Boreal Forest could die back, the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, the El Nino Southern Oscillation, he Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet.

“Society must not be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change,” said Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia, the lead author of the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “Our findings suggest that a variety of tipping elements could reach their critical point within this century under human-induced climate change. The greatest threats are tipping of the Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland ice sheet, and at least five other elements could surprise us by exhibiting a nearby tipping point.”

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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