Climate ‘points of no return’ may be much closer than we thought

Climate tipping points — the “points of no return” past which key components of Earth’s climate will begin to irreversibly break down — could be triggered by much lower temperatures than scientists previously thought, with some tipping points potentially already reached. There are also many more potential tipping points than scientists previously identified, according to a new study.

In climatology, a tipping point is defined as a rise in global temperature past which a localized climate system, or “tipping element” — such as the Amazon (opens in new tab) rainforest or the Greenland ice sheet — starts to irreversibly decline. Once a tipping point has been reached, that tipping element will experience runaway effects that essentially doom it forever, even if global temperatures retreat below the tipping point.

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