Climatic Change

, Volume 110, Issue 3, pp 845-878

First online:

Potential climatic transitions with profound impact on Europe

Review of the current state of six ‘tipping elements of the climate system’
  • Anders LevermannAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchUniversity of Potsdam Email author 
  • , Jonathan L. BamberAffiliated withUniversity of Bristol
  • , Sybren DrijfhoutAffiliated withRoyal Netherlands Meteorological Institute
  • , Andrey GanopolskiAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • , Winfried HaeberliAffiliated withUniversity of Zurich
  • , Neil R. P. HarrisAffiliated withEuropean Ozone Research Coordinating Unit, Department of Chemistry, Cambridge University
  • , Matthias HussAffiliated withUniversity of Fribourg
  • , Kirstin KrügerAffiliated withLeibniz Institute for Marine Sciences
  • , Timothy M. LentonAffiliated withCollege of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
    • , Ronald W. LindsayAffiliated withUniversity of Washington
    • , Dirk NotzAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institute for Meteorology
    • , Peter WadhamsAffiliated withDepartment of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University
    • , Susanne WeberAffiliated withRoyal Netherlands Meteorological Institute

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We discuss potential transitions of six climatic subsystems with large-scale impact on Europe, sometimes denoted as tipping elements. These are the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica, the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, Arctic sea ice, Alpine glaciers and northern hemisphere stratospheric ozone. Each system is represented by co-authors actively publishing in the corresponding field. For each subsystem we summarize the mechanism of a potential transition in a warmer climate along with its impact on Europe and assess the likelihood for such a transition based on published scientific literature. As a summary, the ‘tipping’ potential for each system is provided as a function of global mean temperature increase which required some subjective interpretation of scientific facts by the authors and should be considered as a snapshot of our current understanding.