, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 34-43
Date: 14 Jan 2012

Tipping Points in the Arctic: Eyeballing or Statistical Significance?

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Arctic ecosystems have experienced and are projected to experience continued large increases in temperature and declines in sea ice cover. It has been hypothesized that small changes in ecosystem drivers can fundamentally alter ecosystem functioning, and that this might be particularly pronounced for Arctic ecosystems. We present a suite of simple statistical analyses to identify changes in the statistical properties of data, emphasizing that changes in the standard error should be considered in addition to changes in mean properties. The methods are exemplified using sea ice extent, and suggest that the loss rate of sea ice accelerated by factor of ~5 in 1996, as reported in other studies, but increases in random fluctuations, as an early warning signal, were observed already in 1990. We recommend to employ the proposed methods more systematically for analyzing tipping points to document effects of climate change in the Arctic.