Tipping points can best be described as critical thresholds where the climate system as a whole, or its components, referred to as tipping elements, transition from one stable state to another. This occurs by way of a drastic and irreversible change that catalyzes a domino effect of feedback mechanisms, resulting in a cascade of numerous dramatic changes


Several components of the climate system have been identified to possess a potential risk of undergoing abrupt transitions. Such components are called Tipping Elements (TEs).

Important TEs are:

  • Atlantic meridional overturning circulation,
  • Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets
  • The tropical rainforests
  • The ice-covered Arctic ocean
  • The Indian monsoon
  • Permafrost and oceanic methane clathrates

Detailed modelling and monitoring of each TE is important, and identification and implementation of early-warning signals (EWS) for tipping based on both paleoclimate reconstructions and recent observations requires the development of advanced statistical tools. The interaction between different components in the complex Earth system can possibly lead to a cascade of tipping events, where the probability of critical transitions within one TE depends on the changing state of another.

Understanding this kind of cascading behaviour and the phenomena underpinning the TEs involved requires a truly interdisciplinary effort, through novel developments of the theory of fast-slow systems, (stochastic) dynamical systems theory, nonlinear time series analysis, and the mathematics involved in multiple time-scale dynamics.

This must be combined with investigations of paleoclimatic records and present day’s observations, and of the behaviour of TEs in Earth System Models (ESMs), where computer simulations must be carefully designed to explore the possible transitions in such models.

The proposed consortium behind CriticalEarth has the ambition, competences and the scientific basis for achieving this understanding and for training early-stage researchers (ESRs) to solve these scientific problems for the next generation.