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Tipping elements remain a 'hot' issue
Date:8/24/2009

Research published by climate scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been named one of the most highly-cited in its field in the last two years.

The article, 'Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system', appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February 2008 and was this month named a 'New Hot Paper' by Thomson Reuters.

"The article captures the zeitgeist of a growing group of climate scientists who perceive that human activities are already pushing Earth's climate past regional tipping points," said lead author Prof Tim Lenton of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences.

Prof Lenton's team worked closely on the research with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

The researchers introduced the term ''tipping element'' to describe large-scale components of the Earth system that may be pushed past critical thresholds by anthropogenic forcing of the climate system. On the verge of tipping, tiny perturbations could have large long-term consequences on human and ecological systems.

The work has profound economic and political implications and was named Research Project of the Year 2008 by the Times Higher Education newspaper.

"Our paper has sensitized the public to the possibility of highly nonlinear reactions of nature to human interference with the climate system," said Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK.

An example of a tipping element is the Arctic sea-ice. As sea-ice melts, it exposes a much darker ocean surface, which absorbs more radiation from the sun. This in turn amplifies the warming, decreases ice formation in winter, and causes more rapid melting in summer. The long-term trend in summer ice extent indicates a decline of 3.3 per cent for the last three decades. As reported in the Tipping Elements paper, there could be a nonlinear transition to a new stable state with no arctic sea-ice during
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Contact: Simon Dunford
s.dunford@uea.ac.uk
44-160-359-2203
University of East Anglia
Source:Eurekalert

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