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Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change


Preface. This is a summary of the National Research Council 2013 study of abrupt changes of climate change.


2019-12-6. Research reveals past rapid Antarctic ice loss due to ocean warming.  “…the sensitive West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during a warming period just over a million years ago when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were lower than today.”

2015-8-5. The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here.  The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected. Rolling Stone.


NRC. 2013. Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating surprises. National Research Council, National Academies of Sciences press.

“Abrupt climate change is generally defined as occurring when some part of the climate system passes a threshold or tipping point resulting in a rapid change that produces a new state lasting decades or longer (Alley et al., 2003). In this case “rapid” refers to timelines of a few years to decades.

“Abrupt climate change can occur on a regional, continental, hemispheric, or even global basis. Even a gradual forcing of a system with naturally occurring and chaotic variability can cause some part of the system to cross a threshold, triggering an abrupt change. Therefore, it is likely that gradual or monotonic forcings increase the probability of an abrupt change occurring.

Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the last million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in Earth’s atmosphere for a very long time.

It is clear that the planet will be warmer, sea level will rise, and patterns of rainfall will change. But the future is also partly uncertain—there is considerable uncertainty about how we will arrive at that different climate.

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