Global Tipping Points 2023 Report: Ch1.4 – Tipping points in ocean and atmosphere circulations.

Loriani, Sina; Aksenov, Yevgeny ORCID:; Dijkstra, Henk; England, Matt; Fedorov, Alexey; Messori, Gabriele; Pausata, Francesco; Sallée, JB; Sinha, Bablu; Sherwood, Steven; Tharammal, Thejna; Armstrong McKay, David I.; Gala, Govindasamy; Born, Andreas; Drifjhout, Sybren; Jackson, Laura; Kornhuber, Kai; Chiessi, Cristiano M.; Rynders, Stefanie ORCID:; Swingedouw, Didier. 2023 Global Tipping Points 2023 Report: Ch1.4 – Tipping points in ocean and atmosphere circulations. University of Exeter.

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This chapter assesses scientific evidence for tipping points across circulations in the ocean and atmosphere. The warming of oceans, modified wind patterns and increasing freshwater influx from melting ice hold the potential to disrupt established circulation patterns. We find evidence for tipping points in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre (SPG), and the Antarctic Overturning Circulation, which may collapse under warmer and ‘fresher’ (i.e. less salty) conditions. A slowdown or collapse of these oceanic circulations would have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the climate system, such as shifts in the monsoons. There is evidence that this has happened in the past, having led to vastly different states of the Sahara following abrupt changes in the West African monsoon, which we also classify as a tipping system. Evidence about tipping of the monsoons over South America and Asia is limited, however large-scale deforestation or air pollution are considered as potential sources of destabilisation. Although theoretically possible, there is little indication for tipping points in tropical clouds or mid-latitude atmospheric circulations. Similarly, tipping towards a more extreme or persistent El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) state is not sufficiently supported by models and observations. While the thresholds for many of these systems are uncertain, tipping could be devastating for many millions of people. Stabilising climate (along with minimising other pressures, like aerosol pollution and ecosystem degradation) is critical for reducing the likelihood of reaching tipping points in the ocean-atmosphere system.

Item Type: Publication - Report
Date made live: 18 Dec 2023 17:43 +0 (UTC)

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