Chapter 1.5: Climate tipping point interactions and cascades

Wunderling, N.; von der Heydt, A.; Aksenov, Y.; Barker, S.; Bastiaansen, R.; Brovkin, V.; Brunetti, M.; Couplet, V.; Kleinen, T.; Lear, C. H.; Lohmann, J.; Roman-Cuesta, R. M.; Sinet, S.; Swingedouw, D.; Winkelmann, R.; Anand, P.; Barichvich, J.; Bathiany, S.; Baudena, M.; Brunn, J. T.; Chiessi, C. M.; Coxall, H. K.; Docquier, D.; Donges, J. F.; Falkena, S. K. J.; Klose, A. K.; Obura, D.; Rocha, J.; Rynders, S.; Steinet, N. J. and Willet, M. (2023). Chapter 1.5: Climate tipping point interactions and cascades. In Lenton, T. M.; Armstrong McKay, D. I.; Loriani, S.; Abrams, J. F.; Lade, S. J.; Donges, J. F.; Milkoreit, M.; Powell, T.; Smith, S. R.; Zimm, C.; Buxton, J. E.; Bailey, E.; Laybourn, L.; Ghadiali, A. and Dyke, J. G. eds. The Global Tipping Points Report 2023 University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.



This chapter reviews interactions between climate tipping systems and assesses the potential risk of cascading effects. After a definition of tipping system interactions, we map out the current state of the literature on specific interactions between climate tipping systems that may be important for the overall stability of the climate system. For this, we gather evidence from model simulations, observations and conceptual understanding, as well as archetypal examples of palaeoclimate reconstructions where propagating transitions were potentially at play. This chapter concludes by identifying crucial knowledge gaps in tipping system interactions that should be resolved in order to improve risk assessments of cascading transitions under future climate change scenarios.
The scientific content of this chapter is closely based on the following scientific manuscript: Wunderling, N., von der Heydt, A. et al.: Climate tipping point interactions and cascades: A review, EGUsphere [preprint],, 2023.
Key messages
● Tipping systems in the climate system are closely interacting, meaning a substantial change in one will have consequences for subsequently connected tipping systems.
● A majority of interactions between climate tipping systems are destabilising. While confirmation or rejection through future research is necessary, it seems plausible/possible that interactions between climate tipping systems destabilise the Earth system in addition to climate change effects on individual tipping systems.
● We are quickly approaching global warming thresholds where tipping system interactions become relevant, because multiple individual thresholds are being crossed.
● At least three approaches are needed to improve risk assessments for tipping cascades: (i) Time-series analysis of observations and palaeoclimate data, (ii) Earth system models designed for tipping system interactions, (iii) Risk analysis using large model ensembles.
● palaeoclimate observations improve our understanding of tipping cascades, by studying past abrupt or transition events such as the Eocene-Oligocene Transition, Bølling-Allerød warm period.
● Besides direct interactions, additional indirect feedbacks (for example, via temperature) should be quantified in order to determine the risk for tipping cascades.

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