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Climate Tipping Points and Global Warming

The complexity of climate prediction is not a secret and sometimes it seems to be more an art than a science. However, there has been extensive progress in this field in the past decades. Despite the complexity of a climate model for the earth, the steady advances in successful weather prediction as well as recent successes in predicting short-term climate effects such as the El Niño phenomenon, provide optimism for progress in developing accurate long-term climate prediction models. Within the next several years, computational models operating at the needed resolution and complexity will become possible using computer systems capable of sustaining ten to forty trillion mathematical calculations per second, a thousand times faster than today’s computers. (reference)

The compilation of data and its presentation in an easily accessible format have made great strides since the advent of the computer and the more recent introduction of the Internet. The view of planet earth from space has also triggered a compilation of information and data never before available on such a scale. One excellent example of such achievements is the software system developed by Google Earth on which many overlays are possible.

See for example Exploring Permafrost Melting With Google Earth

The impact of global changes on our societies is also constantly making the news with increasingly powerful presenters such as Al Gore, James Hansen, James Lovelock and many others. We now have daily reports on breaking ice patches in the arctic, sizes of hurricanes, and all sorts of catastrophic events and scenarios we never thought were related before. And apparently there is more to come! All these activities combined with the importance of associated issues have forced scientists and climatologists to invent a new language with which we are becoming increasingly familiar as the climate changes are becoming more visible.

For an introduction to this new language visit the Glossary of Climate Changes

According to the Wikipedia glossary, a climate tipping point is the point at which a change due to human activity brings about sufficient new processes in nature to make human reversal of the change impossible. In other words this would be bad news if the new conditions on earth would make the planet less inhospitable to humans. After all, we do not have yet another planet to escape to!

These news terms need new definitions and examples. Drawing on a workshop of 36 leading climate scientists in October 2005 at the British Embassy, Berlin, Germany, a further elicitation of 52 experts in the field, and a review of the pertinent literature, a short-list of nine potential tipping elements. The tipping points that have been ranked according to likely severity are: (reference)

Highly sensitive tipping elements with the smallest uncertainty

Intermediately sensitive tipping elements with a large uncertainty

Lowly sensitive tipping elements with intermediate uncertainty

When the strength of the haline forcing increases due to excess precipitation, runoff, or ice melt the conveyor belt will weaken or even shut down. The variability in the strength of the conveyor belt will lead to climate change in Europe and it could also influence weather systems in other areas of the global ocean.

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