Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climate 'tipping points' may arrive without warning, says top forecaster

Date:
February 10, 2010
Source:
University of California - Davis
Summary:
A new study by a top ecological forecaster says it is harder than experts thought to predict when sudden shifts in Earth's natural systems will occur -- a worrisome finding for scientists trying to identify the tipping points that could push climate change into an irreparable global disaster.

Icebergs breaking off from the Dawes Glacier in the Endicott Arm.
Credit: iStockphoto/Joseph Gareri

A new University of California, Davis, study by a top ecological forecaster says it is harder than experts thought to predict when sudden shifts in Earth's natural systems will occur -- a worrisome finding for scientists trying to identify the tipping points that could push climate change into an irreparable global disaster.

"Many scientists are looking for the warning signs that herald sudden changes in natural systems, in hopes of forestalling those changes, or improving our preparations for them," said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. "Our new study found, unfortunately, that regime shifts with potentially large consequences can happen without warning — systems can ‘tip’ precipitously.

"This means that some effects of global climate change on ecosystems can be seen only once the effects are dramatic. By that point returning the system to a desirable state will be difficult, if not impossible."

The current study focuses on models from ecology, but its findings may be applicable to other complex systems, especially ones involving human dynamics such as harvesting of fish stocks or financial markets.

Hastings, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy, is one of the world's top experts in using mathematical models (sets of equations) to understand natural systems. His current studies range from researching the dynamics of salmon and cod populations to modeling plant and animal species' response to global climate change.

In 2006, Hastings received the Robert H. MacArthur Award, the highest honor given by the Ecological Society of America.

Hastings' collaborator and co-author on the new study, Derin Wysham, was previously a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis and is now a research scientist in the Department of Computational and Systems Biology at the John Innes Center in Norwich, England.

Scientists widely agree that global climate change is already causing major environmental effects, such as changes in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, droughts, heat waves and wildfires; rising sea level; water shortages in arid regions; new and larger pest outbreaks afflicting crops and forests; and expanding ranges for tropical pathogens that cause human illness.

And they fear that worse is in store. As U.S. presidential science adviser John Holdren (not an author of the new UC Davis study) recently told a congressional committee: "Climate scientists worry about 'tipping points' ... thresholds beyond which a small additional increase in average temperature or some associated climate variable results in major changes to the affected system."

Among the tipping points Holdren listed were: the complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice in summer, leading to drastic changes in ocean circulation and climate patterns across the whole Northern Hemisphere; acceleration of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, driving rates of sea-level increase to 6 feet or more per century; and ocean acidification from carbon dioxide absorption, causing massive disruption in ocean food webs.

The new UC Davis study was supported by the Advancing Theory in Biology program at the U.S. National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hastings et al. Regime shifts in ecological systems can occur with no warning. Ecology Letters, 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01439.x

Cite This Page:

University of California - Davis. "Climate 'tipping points' may arrive without warning, says top forecaster." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100209191445.htm>.
University of California - Davis. (2010, February 10). Climate 'tipping points' may arrive without warning, says top forecaster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100209191445.htm
University of California - Davis. "Climate 'tipping points' may arrive without warning, says top forecaster." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100209191445.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Balloon Descends to Bottom of Croatian Cave

Raw: Balloon Descends to Bottom of Croatian Cave

AP (Sep. 29, 2014) An Austrian balloon pilot has succeeded in taking a balloon deep underground, a feat which he believes is a world first. (Sept. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bodies Recovered from Japan Volcano Eruption

Bodies Recovered from Japan Volcano Eruption

AP (Sep. 29, 2014) Rescue crews finished recovering the remaining 27 bodies from atop Japan's Mount Ontake Monday. At least 31 people were killed Saturday in the mountain's first fatal volcanic event in modern history. (Sept. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Japan's Mount Ontake Erupts

Raw: Japan's Mount Ontake Erupts

AP (Sep. 27, 2014) A volcano erupted in central Japan on Saturday, sending a large plume of ash high into the sky and prompting a warning to climbers and others to avoid the area. (Sept. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins