What do we mean, ‘tipping cascade’?

Summary

Based on suggested interactions of potential tipping elements in the Earth’s climate and in ecological systems, tipping cascades as possible dynamics are increasingly discussed and studied. The activation of such tipping cascades would impose a considerable risk for human societies and biosphere integrity. However, there are ambiguities in the description of tipping cascades within the literature so far. Here we illustrate how different patterns of multiple tipping dynamics emerge from a very simple coupling of two previously studied idealized tipping elements. In particular, we distinguish between a two phase cascade, a domino cascade and a joint cascade. A mitigation of an unfolding two phase cascade may be possible and common early warning indicators are sensitive to upcoming critical transitions to a certain degree. In contrast, a domino cascade may hardly be stopped once initiated and critical slowing down-based indicators fail to indicate tipping of the following element. These different potentials for intervention and anticipation across the distinct patterns of multiple tipping dynamics should be seen as a call to be more precise in future analyses of cascading dynamics arising from tipping element interactions in the Earth system.

Information

Link to centre authors: Donges, Jonathan
Publication info: Klose, A., Wunderling, N., Winkelmann, R., Donges, J.. 2021. What do we mean, ‘tipping cascade’? Environmental Research Letters. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac3955

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