A Tipping Point Where Climate Change Goes From Gradual To Rapid Exists

Remember The Day After Tomorrow? That may be more fact and less fiction

The Day After Tomorrow Image Getty

The cataclysmic climate change scenario presented in the film The Day After Tomorrow may be a little more science fact than fiction according to new data.

In the Jake Gyllenhaal movie, viewers are presented with the concept of tipping points, where slow and gradual changes in atmospheric CO2 levels reach a point that triggers a sudden and significant change in temperatures.

In the movie, that results in a whole heap of trouble with arctic blizzards, tidal waves and any number of out-there natural disasters occurring, much to the chagrin of Gyllenhaal and his dad, Dennis Quaid.

But what might seem like a pretty out-there concept to even those who believe in the big bad that is climate change, the concept may actually be more grounded in reality that first thought.

It follows the discovery of data that suggests tipping points have previously occurred and could, therefore, occur again.

Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute and the University of Cardiff looked at ice core samples from Greenland to try and ascertain why some havd shot up by as much as 10° C (18° F) in a matter of decades.

Using a computer model that simulates the relationship between ocean currents, sea ice levels, and atmosphere, they found that a high concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was to blame.

More worryingly, the study showed that CO2 levels did not have to rise quickly to render these results: after a period of slower growth, the climate reached a tipping point that resulted in temperature spikes.

For example, in the case of Greenland, an increase in CO2 levels prompted the eastern part of the Pacific to warm faster than the western part, resulting in stronger trade winds across Central America. That, in turn, meant more moisture carried to the Atlantic and saltier, denser salt water all of which sped up the process and resulted in warmer water heading north.

The London of the future?
London of the future? It's worrying. Image 20th Century Fox

“With this study, we’ve managed to show for the first time how gradual increases of CO2 triggered rapid warming,” Xu Zhang, first author of the study, said.

“Our simulations indicate that even small changes in the CO2 concentration suffice to change the circulation pattern, which can end in sudden temperature increases.”

First published in the journal Nature Geoscience, those behind the findings were eager to stress that this does not necessarily mean another tipping point is just around the corner. Or, at least, they hoped not.

“We can’t say for certain whether rising CO2 levels will produce similar effects in the future because the framework conditions today differ from those in a glacial period,” sGerrit Lohmann, co-author of the study, said.

“That being said, we’ve now confirmed that there have definitely been abrupt climate changes in the Earth’s past that were the result of continually rising CO2 concentrations.”

The end is nigh, people.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.