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Mechanisms and Impacts of Climate Tipping Elements

Presentation Date
Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 2:00pm
Convention Center - Poster Hall, D-F



“Climate tipping elements” often refer to large-scale earth systems with the potential to respond nonlinearly to anthropogenic climate change by transitioning towards substantially different long-term states upon passing key thresholds, frequently referred to as “tipping points.” In some but not all cases, such changes could produce additional greenhouse gas emissions or radiative forcing that could compound global warming. Improving understanding of tipping elements is important for predicting future climate risks. Here we review mechanisms, predictions, impacts, and knowledge gaps associated with ten notable earth systems proposed to be climate tipping elements. We evaluate which tipping elements are more imminent and whether shifts will likely manifest rapidly or over longer timescales. Some tipping elements are significant to future global climate and will likely affect major ecosystems, climate patterns, and/or carbon cycling within the 21st century. However, assessments under different emissions scenarios indicate a strong potential to reduce or avoid impacts associated with many tipping elements through climate change mitigation. Most tipping elements do not possess the potential for abrupt future change within years, and some proposed tipping elements may not exhibit tipping behavior, rather responding more predictably and directly to the magnitude of forcing. Nevertheless, significant uncertainties remain associated with many tipping elements, highlighting an acute need for further research and modeling to better constrain risks.

Global Environmental Change
Funding Program Area(s)