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Journal Article

Interacting tipping elements increase risk of climate domino effects under global warming


Wunderling,  Nico
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Donges,  Jonathan Friedemann
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Kurths,  Jürgen
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Winkelmann,  Ricarda
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Wunderling, N., Donges, J. F., Kurths, J., Winkelmann, R. (2021): Interacting tipping elements increase risk of climate domino effects under global warming. - Earth System Dynamics, 12, 2, 601-619.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_25506
There exists a range of subsystems in the climate system exhibiting threshold behaviour which could be triggered under global warming within this century resulting in severe consequences for biosphere and human societies. While their individual tipping thresholds are fairly well understood, it is of yet unclear how their interactions might impact the overall stability of the Earth's climate system. This cannot be studied yet with state-of-the-art Earth system models due to computational constraints as well as missing and uncertain process representations of some tipping elements. Here, we explicitly study the effects of known physical interactions between the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the El-Nino Southern Oscillation and the Amazon rainforest using a conceptual network approach. We analyse the risk of domino effects being triggered by each of the individual tipping elements under global warming in equilibrium experiments, propagating uncertainties in critical temperature thresholds and interaction strengths via a Monte-Carlo approach. Overall, we find that the interactions tend to destabilise the network. Furthermore, our analysis reveals the qualitative role of each of the five tipping elements showing that the polar ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica are oftentimes the initiators of tipping cascades, while the AMOC acts as a mediator, transmitting cascades. This implies that the ice sheets, which are already at risk of transgressing their temperature thresholds within the Paris range of 1.5 to 2 °C, are of particular importance for the stability of the climate system as a whole.