But when the IPCC meets in 2014, tipping points — or tipping elements, in academic vernacular — will get much more attention. Scientists still disagree about which planetary systems are extra-sensitive to climate shifts, but the possibility can’t be ignored.“The problem with tipping elements is that if any of them tips, it will be a real catastrophe. None of them are small,” said Anders Levermann, a climate physicist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
Levermann’s article on potential disruptions of South Asia’s monsoon cycles was featured in a series of tipping element research reviews, published December 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also discussed were ocean circulation, polar icecaps, Amazon rainforests, seafloor methane deposits and a west African dustbowl. Each is stressed by rising planetary temperatures. Some are less likely than others to tip; some might not be able to tip at all. Ambiguities, probabilities a limited grasp of Earth’s complex systems are inherent to the science. But if any tip, it will be an epic disaster.
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