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      Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system

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          Abstract

          The term "tipping point" commonly refers to a critical threshold at which a tiny perturbation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system. Here we introduce the term "tipping element" to describe large-scale components of the Earth system that may pass a tipping point. We critically evaluate potential policy-relevant tipping elements in the climate system under anthropogenic forcing, drawing on the pertinent literature and a recent international workshop to compile a short list, and we assess where their tipping points lie. An expert elicitation is used to help rank their sensitivity to global warming and the uncertainty about the underlying physical mechanisms. Then we explain how, in principle, early warning systems could be established to detect the proximity of some tipping points.

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          Monsoons: Processes, predictability, and the prospects for prediction

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            Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model.

            The continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide due to anthropogenic emissions is predicted to lead to significant changes in climate. About half of the current emissions are being absorbed by the ocean and by land ecosystems, but this absorption is sensitive to climate as well as to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, creating a feedback loop. General circulation models have generally excluded the feedback between climate and the biosphere, using static vegetation distributions and CO2 concentrations from simple carbon-cycle models that do not include climate change. Here we present results from a fully coupled, three-dimensional carbon-climate model, indicating that carbon-cycle feedbacks could significantly accelerate climate change over the twenty-first century. We find that under a 'business as usual' scenario, the terrestrial biosphere acts as an overall carbon sink until about 2050, but turns into a source thereafter. By 2100, the ocean uptake rate of 5 Gt C yr(-1) is balanced by the terrestrial carbon source, and atmospheric CO2 concentrations are 250 p.p.m.v. higher in our fully coupled simulation than in uncoupled carbon models, resulting in a global-mean warming of 5.5 K, as compared to 4 K without the carbon-cycle feedback.
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              Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                February 12 2008
                February 12 2008
                February 07 2008
                February 12 2008
                : 105
                : 6
                : 1786-1793
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.0705414105
                2538841
                18258748
                © 2008
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