A group of scientists has discovered specific places where abrupt changes in temperature could trigger the occurrence of natural disasters.
These global warming "tipping points" are not found near any major city, but their contribution to climate change still threatens the planet.
Although scientists cannot predict when the scenarios at the tipping points would happen, they have found that most of these tipping points are near seasides or in the Arctic. Such a domino effect, research shows, may help the scientists understand what possible scenarios could take place should the tipping points suddenly be triggered.
Scientists based their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), on a climate model presented in reports for the 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The study found 41 cases of abrupt changes in the permafrost, terrestrial biosphere, sea ice, ocean and snow cover. Exactly 18 of these cases are in high risks of danger.
"This illustrates the high uncertainty in predicting tipping points," said Sybren Drijfhout, lead author and professor at the University of Southampton. "More precisely, our results show that the different state-of-the-art models agree that abrupt changes are likely, but that predicting when and where they will occur remains very difficult."
The study observed changes in the pattern of ocean circulation, sea ice, marine productivity and vegetation in places such as the tundra permafrost, Amazon forest, Tibetan plateau, and many others.
Researchers claim that these changes are brought about by the consequences of neglecting the environment and over-exploitation of the planet's resources.
Victor Brovkin, a co-author from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), said that the abrupt events could result in different variations of natural disasters, and that a collapse of the permafrost in the Arctic may lead to a rapid increase in forest areas there.
Meanwhile, Martin Claussen, one of the co-authors of the study, said that their work is only the starting point of many studies to come. He said that they have to look deeper into the mechanisms of each tipping point and develop an approach to assess them for the next round of climate simulations for the IPCC.
Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio | Flickr