Overview: IGBP-AIMES, and its forerunner IGBP-GAIM, has been instrumental in the identification of climate “tipping points” that could result in abrupt and/or irreversible changes (Lenton et al., 2008). AIMES will continue to promote research on tipping pointswith the goal of providing techniques that could be used across the whole-range of disciplines that will contribute to Future Earth. Recently, the Future Earth global research projects: AIMES (Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System and PAGES (Past Global Changes) jointly organized the workshop Abrupt changes, thresholds and tipping points in Earth history and future implications.

There is an increasing realization and concern that human modification of the Earth system runs the risk of inducing abrupt transitions in climate, ocean circulation, the cryosphere, ecosystems, and society. Our ability to predict when and where such transitions, so called “tipping points,” might happen is limited. While abrupt climate change has long been identified in ice core records (Johnsen et al., 1992) and other archives, skillfully modeling abrupt change has largely been limited to simple models and many state of the art climate models underestimate the rate and extent of abrupt change apparent in paleo data (Valdes, 2011). Major challenges facing more complex models include simplifying processes through parameterizations and the exclusion of processes important on longer timescales such as ice-sheet dynamics or carbon cycle feedbacks that would give rise to abrupt events. This challenges our ability to understand the ways in which human activities may put pressure on the biogeochemical and physical climate systems to induce tipping points in the future. Recently, a multi-model assessment revealed abrupt events in some models under forcing from the IPCC RCP scenarios, suggesting the possibility of predicting the likelihood of such events (Drijfhout et al., 2015). Advancing our understanding of the full range of possible abrupt climate, environmental and societal changes through the continued assessment and collection of paleo data and application of robust statistical techniques using improved multimodel experiments will help us to assess future risks. However, how to best use the paleo records in this regard is not well established.

The main objective of this workshop is to summarize and evaluate evidence on non-linear Earth System dynamics in recent geological history, and discuss how best to acquire, analyze and interpret such data to understand the risk of future abrupt transitions. Where applicable, we will discuss physical, biogeochemical, ecological and social processes that might have caused abrupt transitions to new states, and their relevance for Earth system models. We will assess the well-archived and relatively abundant paleoclimate data from the Quaternary period, and the skill of the current state of the art climate models to reconstruct past abrupt changes and predict abrupt climate change in the future.

For participants, presentations can be found here


From Lenton et al., 2008. Identification of regions with tipping elements, large-scale sub-systems susceptible to threshold-type behavior that could trigger qualitatively different states, mapped over population density with relevancy to policy-making decisions.
Participants from the AIMES/PAGES 'Abrupt changes, thresholds, and tipping points in Earth history and future implications' workshop held at MPI-M in Hamburg, Germany on November 14-16, 2018.