TiPES: When does the climate change?

Interdisciplinary project on tipping points

16 May 2019
TiPES Project: Tipping Points in the Earth System - Logo

1.5 or 2 degrees - how much global warming is too much? To clarify such questions and to define tipping points in the earth's climate is the aim of the major project Tipping Points in the Earth System (TiPES). Prof. Christian Kühn from the TUM Department of Mathematics is a member of this interdisciplinary team. 

The main goal of the TiPES project is to enable a better quantification of tipping elements in the earth's climatesystem - and avoid them being reached. In particular, the undiminished emissions of greenhouse gases can cause the various components of the earth system to be strained to the point of tipping.

Tipping Points: hard to simulate

Example for a a tipping point concern: the deforestation of the rainforest

The rainforest is an example for a possible tipping point: its deforestation can cause the ecosystem to tip over - with climatic consequences.

Tipping points define critical thresholds that interfere with the state or evolution of a particular system. One example is the deforestation of the rainforest: water circulates in this ecosystem. That leads to rainfall. If mankind devastates the rainforest, one day the (tipping) point will be reached when the ecosystem dries up and collapses - with severe consequences for the entire flora and fauna, but also for other ecosystems.

In the history of the earth, such tipping points occur repeatedly. But which mechanisms eactly lead to such abrupt changes is only partially known and insufficiently researched. Current modelings of the earth system react only minimally to tipping points and don't explain the strong nonlinear processes. They have difficulties simulating abrupt changes - even those that have actually occurred in the history of the planet.


TiPES wants to improve climate models

The TiPES project aims to understand and explain the dynamics and thresholds of tipping points in climate change. Niklas Boers, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Associate TiPES Coordinator, presented an overview of the project at a meeting of the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) on 11 April 2019.

It intends to provide important threshold andsystem dynamics data for 6 tipping point concerns - as the portal EOS reports:

  • Overturning of the Atlantic thermohaline north-south circulation
  • Melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets and sea ice
  • Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem
  • Collapse of the South American and Asian monsoon
  • Danger of desertification in the Mediterranean region
  • Melting of glaciers in Alpine regions

Research positions for mathematicians

To enable a better modelling of these climatic processes in the future, the Tipping Points in the Earth System project brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines: mathematicians, climate researchers, and sociologists. Christian Kühn, Professor of Multiscale and Stochastic Dynamics at the Department of Mathematics, is one of the project's workpackage leaders and represents mathematics.

In total, 25 researchers from 18 institutions in 12 countries are involved in the project as workpackage leaders. It will be funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 program and will run for 4 years starting in September 2019. The TiPES Project offers research postitions for about 30 PostDocs, 2 of them at the TUM, which is a main site for the mathematics section. In September, the research team should be complete. The official opening ceremony will take place in October 2019 at the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris.

Detailed information can be found on the Tipping Points in the Earth System project website.