In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the United Kingdom examine centuries-old quahog clam shells to explain the reasons behind a “tipping point” that the North Atlantic climate system experienced leading up the Little Ice Age, which is a period of regional cooling that took place over several centuries, ending around 1850. The study also helps paint a clearer picture of previous destabilization of the North Atlantic climate system, which the researchers say a similar “tipping point” could be inching closer to happening again. With a better a better understanding behind the triggering of these tipping points, scientists also warn human-driven climate change could explain why multiple tipping points could be approaching worldwide levels.
"One way to tell that a system is approaching a sudden transition is that it becomes slow to respond to perturbations (external changes)," said Dr. Beatriz Arellano-Nava of the University of Exeter's Global Systems Institute, and lead author of the study. "In other words, a system loses the ability to return to its average state and can instead 'tip' into a new state."
The researchers note the North Atlantic climate system is vulnerable to another tipping point while suggesting its destabilization during the previous century. The researchers studied measurements of oxygen and carbon isotopes and shell growth of the quahog clam shells, which can be utilized to determine variability in the environment.
"Our latest analysis suggests that the system of ocean currents in the northern North Atlantic could be at risk of a tipping point again now due to global warming, leading once again to abrupt climate change over Europe," said Dr. Tim Lenton, who is Director of the Global Systems Institute.
Sources: Nature Communications
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