Researchers in the UK claim that a number of “tipping points” in the fight against climate change could be reached this century.

The research, involving the Universities of East Anglia, Newcastle and Oxford describes a “tipping element” as a critical threshold where only a small change in human activity could have long-term consequences for the Earth’s climate system.

And the researchers have drawn up a shortlist of nine tipping elements – all of which could reach tipping point within the next 100 years.

The events, along with the time it could take them to undergo a major transition are:

• Melting of Arctic sea-ice  (approx 10 years)
• Decay of the Greenland ice sheet (more than 300 years)
• Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (more than 300 years)
• Collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (approx 100 years)
• Increase in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (approx 100 years)
• Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (approx 1 year)
• Greening of the Saharal and disruption of the  African monsoon
(approx 10 years)
• Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (approx 50 years)
• Dieback of the Boreal Forest (approx 50 years)

Professor Tim Lenton, who led the study, said: “Society must not be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change.

“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.”

But he says it should be possible, in principle,  to set up early warning systems to alert us to the tipping point using real-time monitoring and modelling.




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