Climate change may soon push the world to a point of no return, according to a new study published in the journal Science. The study reviewed 16 tipping points and found that the climate system was closer to collapse than originally thought. The researchers found that warming temperatures could soon force the collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet, leading to severe sea level rise. Furthermore, they also found that coral reefs can soon be destroyed to a point of no return.
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According to the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, the world must keep the temperature rise from global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era temperatures. However, recent studies suggest otherwise. More than 200 research papers indicate that some key thresholds could reach the tipping point at just 1.1 degrees Celsius, which is what we are experiencing now.
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“We can see some possible early warning signals,” said climate scientist David Armstrong McKay, a co-author of the study. “…the Greenland Ice Sheet is showing signs of destabilization with lots of melting and there may be early warnings that the Atlantic circulation may be slowing.”
The researchers behind the study tested all 16 tipping points against different climate warming scenarios. They found that the disintegration of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, the death of coral reefs and the collapse of the Labrador-Irminger Sea convection could happen now.
If this were to happen, the Arctic permafrost would release large amounts of water into the ocean and large volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Coral reef die-offs, on the other hand, would literally bring the marine food web to its knees.
They further determined that five important tipping points would be reached at 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the risk of causing a tipping point increases as the temperature moves towards the 2 degree Celsius mark. However, the researchers hold a different view.
“While the IPCC has formulated more cautiously … we are all aware that 1.5 warming does not take us to safe harbor,” said marine biologist Hans-Otto Portner at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.
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