finding 2.10 : key-message-2-10

The climate change resulting from human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide will persist for decades to millennia. Self-reinforcing cycles within the climate system have the potential to accelerate human-induced change and even shift Earth’s climate system into new states that are very different from those experienced in the recent past. Future changes outside the range projected by climate models cannot be ruled out (very high confidence), and due to their systematic tendency to underestimate temperature change during past warm periods, models may be more likely to underestimate than to overestimate long-term future change (medium confidence).

This finding is from chapter 2 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

This chapter is based on the collective effort of 32 authors, 3 review editors, and 18 contributing authors comprising the writing team for the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR),75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 a featured U.S. Global Change Research Project (USGCRP) deliverable and Volume I of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). An open call for technical contributors took place in March 2016, and a federal science steering committee appointed the CSSR team. CSSR underwent three rounds of technical federal review, external peer review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and a review that was open to public comment. Three in-person Lead Authors Meetings were conducted at various stages of the development cycle to evaluate comments received, assign drafting responsibilities, and ensure cross-chapter coordination and consistency in capturing the state of climate science in the United States. In October 2016, an 11-member core writing team was tasked with capturing the most important CSSR key findings and generating an Executive Summary. The final draft of this summary and the underlying chapters was compiled in June 2017.

The NCA4 Chapter 2 author team was pulled exclusively from CSSR experts tasked with leading chapters and/or serving on the Executive Summary core writing team, thus representing a comprehensive cross-section of climate science disciplines and supplying the breadth necessary to synthesize CSSR content. NCA4 Chapter 2 authors are leading experts in climate science trends and projections, detection and attribution, temperature and precipitation change, severe weather and extreme events, sea level rise and ocean processes, mitigation, and risk analysis. The chapter was developed through technical discussions first promulgated by the literature assessments, prior efforts of USGCRP,75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 e-mail exchanges, and phone consultations conducted to craft this chapter and subsequent deliberations via phone and e-mail exchanges to hone content for the current application. The team placed particular emphasis on the state of science, what was covered in USGCRP,75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 and what is new since the release of the Third NCA in 2014.dd5b893d-4462-4bb3-9205-67b532919566

Description of evidence base:

This Key Message is based on a large body of scientific literature recently summarized by Lenton et al. (2008),d64a3dbf-d45e-49de-98b9-b4ea32da888f NRC (2013),3dcd5a73-de83-4b37-884a-5236407c170e and Kopp et al. (2016).08bc6610-586b-421c-a788-f5e18781ac52 As NRC (2013)3dcd5a73-de83-4b37-884a-5236407c170e states, “A study of Earth’s climate history suggests the inevitability of ‘tipping points’—thresholds beyond which major and rapid changes occur when crossed—that lead to abrupt changes in the climate system” and “Can all tipping points be foreseen? Probably not. Some will have no precursors, or may be triggered by naturally occurring variability in the climate system. Some will be difficult to detect, clearly visible only after they have been crossed and an abrupt change becomes inevitable.” As IPCC AR5 WG1 Chapter 12, Section 12.5.5b3bbc7b5-067e-4c23-8d9b-59faee21e58e further states, “A number of components or phenomena within the Earth system have been proposed as potentially possessing critical thresholds (sometimes referred to as tipping points) beyond which abrupt or nonlinear transitions to a different state ensues.” Collins et al. (2013)b3bbc7b5-067e-4c23-8d9b-59faee21e58e further summarize critical thresholds that can be modeled and others that can only be identified.

This Key Message is also based on the conclusions of IPCC AR5 WG1,f03117be-ccfe-4f88-b70a-ffd4351b8190 specifically Chapter 7;a46eaad1-5c17-46f7-bba6-d3fee718a092 the state of the art of global models is briefly summarized in Hayhoe et al. (2017).9c909a77-a1d9-477d-82fc-468a6b1af771 This Key Message is also based upon the tendency of global climate models to underestimate, relative to geological reconstructions, the magnitude of both long-term global mean warming and the amplification of warming at high latitudes in past warm climates (e.g., Salzmann et al. 2013, Goldner et al. 2014, Caballeo and Huber 2013, Lunt et al. 20129f061a0a-e32d-417f-8404-c5ad0d4b01f4,97079544-53fc-496d-b8fc-871be0681b33,828c7c4c-3dcf-4865-b21f-a6ad1fcedca1,35038076-c098-424d-892a-8ba6a87bf142).

New information and remaining uncertainties:

The largest uncertainties are 1) whether proposed tipping elements actually undergo critical transitions, 2) the magnitude and timing of forcing that will be required to initiate critical transitions in tipping elements, 3) the speed of the transition once it has been triggered, 4) the characteristics of the new state that results from such transition, and 5) the potential for new positive feedbacks and tipping elements to exist that are yet unknown.

The largest uncertainties in models are structural: are the models including all the important components and relationships necessary to model the feedbacks and, if so, are these correctly represented in the models?

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is very high confidence in the likelihood of the existence of positive feedbacks and tipping elements based on a large body of literature published over the last 25 years that draws from basic physics, observations, paleoclimate data, and modeling.

There is very high confidence that some feedbacks can be quantified, others are known but cannot be quantified, and others may yet exist that are currently unknown.

There is very high confidence that the models are incomplete representations of the real world; and there is medium confidence that their tendency is to under- rather than overestimate the amount of long-term future change.

This finding was derived from scenario rcp_4_5
This finding was derived from scenario rcp_8_5

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