Review

Early warning of climate tipping points

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A climate 'tipping point' occurs when a small change in forcing triggers a strongly nonlinear response in the internal dynamics of part of the climate system, qualitatively changing its future state. Human-induced climate change could push several large-scale 'tipping elements' past a tipping point. Candidates include irreversible melt of the Greenland ice sheet, dieback of the Amazon rainforest and shift of the West African monsoon. Recent assessments give an increased probability of future tipping events, and the corresponding impacts are estimated to be large, making them significant risks. Recent work shows that early warning of an approaching climate tipping point is possible in principle, and could have considerable value in reducing the risk that they pose.

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Acknowledgements

V. Livina and V. Dakos performed the analysis in, and helped produce, Figs 3 and 4. E. Shuckburgh encouraged the author to produce Fig. 5. This research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/F005474/1) project 'Detecting and classifying bifurcations in the climate system' and was partly conducted at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge University, on the programme 'Mathematical and Statistical Approcahes to Climate Modelling and Prediction'.

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  1. College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter EX4 4PS, UK and School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Timothy M. Lenton

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The author declares no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Timothy M. Lenton.