Abrupt Climate System Destabilization: Cascading Chain Reaction of Amplifying Feedbacks: Part 3 of 3


Paul Beckwith

Published on Jun 6, 2021

A new peer-reviewed scientific paper published June 3rd discusses the risks of climate domino effects from cascading feedbacks. Essentially, the risk is rapidly increasing to cross critical thresholds for one or more tipping elements in the climate system.

Although there are numerous tipping points in the climate system, this paper used Monte Carlo computer simulations to examine the physical interactions between only 4 tipping elements: namely 1) Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) collapse, 2) West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapse, 3) Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) shutdown, and 4) Amazon Rainforest collapse.

This paper is a great start to examining cascading tipping points, but in my opinion it needs to incorporate many other tipping points to be really useful, most notably the paper egregiously ignores Arctic Sea Ice collapse to the dreaded Blue Ocean Event (BOE), and Methane Outbursts from both the Arctic terrestrial permafrost (riskiest being the Siberian Yedoma regions) and the subsea permafrost (riskiest being the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) regions and the methane bound in hydrates (methane clathrates)).

For each of the tipping elements examined, the paper considers the essential factors of critical temperature thresholds, tipping element interaction mechanisms and strengths, and tipping timescales.

The most significant and worrying result of this new paper is the following:

For global warming up to 2.0C above pre-industrial, tipping occurs in 61% of all the simulations. This 61% is further broken down to: one individual element tips in 22% of all of the simulations; cascading effects cause tipping in two elements in 21% of the cases; cascading tips three elements in 15% of the simulations; and all four elements tip via cascading in 3% of all the simulations.

For global warming of 1.0C (already passed) the GIS has already likely tipped.

Meanwhile, for global warming of 3.0C cascades are less frequent since the four elements all tip independently with temperature thresholds already exceeded.

Overall, a fascinating paper, but it is imperative that future work examine the entire gamut of tipping elements, including the four examined thus far.

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