Rapid Climate Shifts Make Identification Difficult

According to a new study, shifts in climate can happen rapidly and unexpectedly, making it hard to identify so-called "tipping points."

"Our new study found, unfortunately, that regime shifts with potentially large consequences can happen without warning – systems can 'tip' precipitously," said Dr. Alan Hastings, professor at the University of California, Davis's Environmental Science and Policy department and author of the report. "This means that some effects of global climate change on ecosystems can be seen only once the effects are dramatic."

With many scientists looking for advanced warning signs pointing to climate-driven ecosystem changes, rapid shifts may mean diminished response capacity.

Though the report, published in Ecology Letters, focuses on ecological models, the findings may apply to "other complex systems" like financial markets or fishing harvests, which stand to be thrown into disarray with unchecked global warming.

Published: February 16, 2010