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Mechanisms and impacts of climate tipping elements
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  • Seaver Wang,
  • Adrianna Foster,
  • Elizabeth A Lenz,
  • John D. Kessler,
  • Julienne Christine Stroeve,
  • Liana O. Anderson,
  • Merritt Turetsky,
  • Richard Betts,
  • Sijia ZOU,
  • Wei Liu,
  • William R. Boos,
  • Zeke Hausfather
Seaver Wang
The Breakthrough Institute

Corresponding Author:seaverwa@gmail.com

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Adrianna Foster
National Center for Atmospheric Research
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Elizabeth A Lenz
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Sea Grant College Program
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John D. Kessler
University of Rochester
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Julienne Christine Stroeve
University of Manitoba
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Liana O. Anderson
National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters
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Merritt Turetsky
University of Colorado Boulder
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Richard Betts
Met Office
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Sijia ZOU
Xiamen University
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Wei Liu
University of California, Riverside
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William R. Boos
University of California, Berkeley
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Zeke Hausfather
The Breakthrough Institute
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“Climate tipping elements” often refer to large-scale earth systems with the potential to respond nonlinearly to anthropogenic climate change by transitioning towards substantially different long-term states upon passing key thresholds, frequently referred to as “tipping points.” In some but not all cases, such changes could produce additional greenhouse gas emissions or radiative forcing that could compound global warming. Improving understanding of tipping elements is important for predicting future climate risks. Here we review mechanisms, predictions, impacts, and knowledge gaps associated with ten notable earth systems proposed to be climate tipping elements. We evaluate which tipping elements are more imminent and whether shifts will likely manifest rapidly or over longer timescales. Some tipping elements are significant to future global climate and will likely affect major ecosystems, climate patterns, and/or carbon cycling within the 21st century. However, assessments under different emissions scenarios indicate a strong potential to reduce or avoid impacts associated with many tipping elements through climate change mitigation. Most tipping elements do not possess the potential for abrupt future change within years, and some proposed tipping elements may not exhibit tipping behavior, rather responding more predictably and directly to the magnitude of forcing. Nevertheless, significant uncertainties remain associated with many tipping elements, highlighting an acute need for further research and modeling to better constrain risks.