Topping Punts

There is an air of "tipping points" about. This is an idea (possibly coined by Schellnhuber) where "the balance of particular systems has reached the critical point at which potentially irreversible change is immenent, or actually occurring". That quote, somewhat bizarrely, comes from the Books and Arts section of Nature (here), which is a slightly dodgy regular section where they make a feeble stab at pretending the "two cultures" ever talk to each other.

And so the piccy is S's attempt to find an "icon" for climate change. But (ibid) "the issues surrounding climate change are extraordinarily complex. Can an image be found that is both simple and good science? Given the contentious nature of the debates, particularly in the United States, it is unwise to offer hostages to fortune by parading vulnerable predictions". I don't think the image is simple: is it good science?

But first of all, what about the "tipping points" concept anyway? I've previously pushed the idea that the climate is stable (in the absence of perturbation). You could argue, quite plausibly, that we shall soon have emitted enough CO2 to raise the T enough that we will be committed to melting Greenland. Perhaps that counts as a tipping point. But its slow. Its on the map as "instability of the greenland ice sheet" which is an odd way of phrasing it but has the "virtue" of implying speed.

But enough quibbling. The one I reacted badly to was "Antarctic ozone hole". Its an envoronmental icon, but hardly a tipping point: as far as its known its reversible, and on a long slow trend to being reversed (err, as long as GW doesn't cool the stratosphere too much...).

As to all the rest... I dunno, its a bit vague isn't it? I'm not sure I'm too keen on this search for an icon stuff.

A couple of BTW's to finish off: (1) I'm down to wiggly worm, so it looks like status is based on snapshot rather than accumulated - must get posting again. (2) I'm off conferencing for a while at the end of the week, so will be dropping further down. (3) I may get assimilated by the Borg in the near future anyway... Mark seems to have self-assimilated.


Dano said...

This is rooted in the ecological literature, Wm., whereby when one visualizes "stability" as a sigmoid curve, the asymptote is the "tipping point" and going beyond that, the system "flips" into an unstable state. 'Resilience' is a better term, but still.

The atm is a component of an ecosystem, so I'm not sure your 'climate is stable' point is completely germane here.

But to the icon point: sadly, we must search for icons these days. The iconization of information dissemination requires it...



Anonymous said...

Speaking of Borg, the current RC post seems to have drawn out a record number of septics. It seems more organized than usual, plus their tone seems a tad more desperate. The responses have been quick and good, though, including more than the usual amount from non-RC climate scientists.

Icon-wise, probably S.'s concept would benefit greatly from graphic fine-tuning (and I do notice they agree it needs a of work), but I think I would package it with a truncated hockey stick, blade only (from 1850) this time since the extra six years help a lot with the impact, this latter co-plotted with the CO2 increase. In addition to the ozone issue, it's missing ocean acidification (a huge threat) and the northward shift in climate zones, the Tibetan melt problem is described in terms of albedo change rather than with regard to the ecological impacts, and I have to admit to never having heard of the salinity gates. Oh, and it has nothing about cyclones or heat waves.

Dano said...

Ah, but Steve, where are the septics in the Books... thread? IMHO that's far more interesting than watching the ants finding a crumb and declaring a picnic.


William M. Connolley said...

Dano - my feeling is that much of the problems will be with the ecology. But, since I know little about that, I tend to stick clear of it. My feeling is that there is a lot of uncertainty there.

Steve: (re RC) I'm glad it seems that way to you!

Dano said...

Your feeling is correct, William. The big picture is well understood, the large-scale relationships are only fairly well understood, the details are, well...sigh...no wonder NGOs search for cuddly pandas and fuzzy brown-eyed bunnies.

Had we but world enough, and time!

Best, sir,