- A new risk analysis has found that the tipping points of five of Earth’s subsystems — the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Amazon rainforest — could interact with each other in a destabilizing manner.
- It suggests that these changes could occur even before temperatures reach 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, which is the upper limit of the Paris Agreement.
- The interactions between the different tipping elements could also lower critical temperature thresholds, essentially allowing tipping cascades to occur earlier than expected, according to the research.
- Experts not involved in the study say the findings are a significant contribution to the field, but do not adequately address the timescales over which these changes could occur.
When the first tile in a line of dominoes tips forward, it affects everything in front of it. One after another, lined-up dominoes knock into each other and topple. This is essentially what could happen to ice sheets, ocean currents and even the Amazon biome if critical tipping points are crossed, according to a new risk analysis. The destabilization of one element could impact the others, creating a domino effect of drastic changes that could move the Earth into an unfamiliar state — one potentially dangerous to the future of humanity and nature as we know it.
The study, published this month in Earth System Dynamics, examines the interactions between five subsystems that are known to have vital thresholds, or tipping points, that could trigger irreversible changes. They include the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Amazon Rainforest.
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