west antarctic ice sheet

Tue, 2009-03-24 00:29Jeremy Jacquot
Jeremy Jacquot's picture

The Tipping Points

As the world dithers, climate scientists are peering into their crystal balls to predict when the next shoe will drop. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of international researchers led by Elmar Kriegler of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research surveyed 43 leading scientists to estimate the likelihood of a tipping point occurring in the near future.

The four tipping points the researchers studied include the restructuring of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (also known as the ocean conveyor belt or thermohaline circulation), the complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the increased frequency of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon.

Based on the scientists’ feedback, they concluded that there is a one in six chance that at least one tipping point will be triggered under conditions of medium warming (2 – 4ºC) and a more than one in two chance (56%) under conditions of high warming (4 – 8ºC) by 2200.

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