Is the Earth on the brink of destruction? Scientists predict climate "loops" in 15 years

Yulia PoteriankoLife
More detailed calculations show that there is much less time before the catastrophe than was thought

The Earth's existing ecosystems may collapse much sooner than earlier estimates suggested. A new study on climate change shows that catastrophic consequences could occur within the lifetime of the current generation.

According to Space.com, more than a fifth of the world's potentially catastrophic tipping points could occur by 2038. These moments include the melting of permafrost in the Arctic, the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, and the sudden transformation of the Amazon rainforest into a savannah.

In climatology, a "tipping point" is a threshold beyond which a local climate system or its key elements change irreversibly. If we explain this phenomenon using the example of the Greenland ice sheet, its disappearance will lead to a decrease in snowfall in the northern part of the island, which will make it impossible for the shield to recover.

However, the researchers point out that the science behind these dramatic transformations is poorly understood and often based on overly simplistic models. An article attempting to address the issue in more depth was published in the journal Nature. It showed that the catastrophe is much closer than previously predicted.

According to co-author Simon Wilcock, Professor of Sustainable Development at Bangor University in the UK, more than 20% of ecosystems around the world are currently under threat of extinction. Rapid changes are accelerated by constant stress and extreme events. Everything can get out of control very soon. And once the critical point is reached, it will be too late to change anything.

Unlike the well-known link between fossil fuel combustion and climate change, the study of tipping points is a young and controversial science. Researchers involved in it use computer models to understand how rising temperatures and other environmental stressors can lead to the destruction of complex ecosystems. They simplify their dynamics to predict the fate of these ecosystems and when their tipping points may be reached.

However, there is a risk that these models will be wrong for decades if they miss any important element or interaction. For example, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in its latest report that the Amazon rainforest could reach a tipping point where it will turn into a savannah by 2100. A new study has called this forecast too optimistic.

The authors of the new paper point out that most similar studies have previously made mathematical calculations based on a single overwhelming factor leading to collapse. In the case of the Amazon, it was deforestation. However, in reality, each ecosystem is threatened by a whole list of factors that destabilise the situation and reinforce each other's negative impact. For example, the Amazon is also facing rising temperatures, soil degradation, water pollution and water shortages.

To learn more about the interaction of such elements and whether they could accelerate the system's demise, the authors of the study built computer models of two lake and two forest ecosystems. In particular, they studied the collapse that led to the death of civilisation on Easter Island. After that, the model was run more than 70,000 times, constantly adjusting the variables.

The calculations included one cause of the collapse, several causes, and all available causes plus the introduction of random noise to simulate climate variability. After testing in several modes, the conclusions were very disturbing. Several causes of a possible collapse, acting simultaneously, brought the probable catastrophe up to 80% closer to the present than previously thought.

And even when the model was able to stop the increase in the impact of the main cause of collapse, 15% of disasters occurred solely due to new elements.

"Our main conclusion from the four ecological models was that ecosystems can collapse 30-80% earlier, depending on the nature of the additional stress. So if previous tipping points were predicted for 2100 (i.e. 77 years from now), we suggest that they could occur 23-62 years earlier, depending on the nature of the stresses," explained John Dearing, co-author of the paper and professor of physical geography at the University of Southampton in the UK.

This means that the significant social and economic impacts of climate change could come much sooner than expected. This means that governments will have even less time to respond.

"This could have serious implications for our perception of future environmental risks. While it is currently impossible to predict how tipping points caused by climate change and the impacts of local human actions on ecosystems will be linked, our results show that one may reinforce the other. Any increasing pressure on ecosystems will be extremely detrimental and could have dangerous consequences," said Gregory Cooper, co-author of the study, a climate systems researcher at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL told how global warming leads to a shrinking of the human brain.

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