↑ Return to Reports

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises (2013)

Both abrupt changes in the physical climate system and steady changes in climate that can trigger abrupt changes in other physical, biological, and human systems present possible threats to nature and society. Abrupt change is already underway in some systems, and large scientific uncertainties about the likelihood of other abrupt changes highlight the need for further research. However, with recent advances in understanding of the climate system, some potential abrupt changes once thought to be imminent threats are now considered unlikely to occur this century. This report summarizes the current state of knowledge on potential abrupt changes to the ocean, atmosphere, ecosystems, and high latitude areas, and identifies key research and monitoring needs. The report calls for action to develop an abrupt change early warning system to help anticipate future abrupt changes and reduce their impacts.

Media Coverage: selected articles that discuss the report

Federal Study Warns of Sudden Climate Change Woes
Associated Press

Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk of Deep Changes
New York Times

How fast is the Earth’s climate actually changing?

Watch out for climate ‘surprises,’ scientists warn

Ready — Or Not. Abrupt Climate Changes Worry Scientists Most

An Update on Risks of Abrupt Jolts from Global Warming
New York Times (blog)

Abrupt Climate Disaster Threat Raises Call for Early Warning System
National Geographic

Links to the Report and Related Resources

all 3_little

Highlights from AGU 2013

More than 200 attendees at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco last week heard from the report’s authors at a special session (U34A) on “Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and Its Impacts.” The session featured a short recap of the report by James White (University of Colorado include James White from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who chaired the report’s authoring committee, and committee member Anthony Barnosky from the University of California at Berkeley, following by presentations from five distinguished scientists:

  • Richard B. Alley – Abrupt Climate Change: Overview, and Sea-Level Rise
  • Alan Hastings – Early warning signs of regime shifts in complex systems: limitations and best approaches
  • Edward R. Cook  – Megadroughts: The scary past told by tree rings and its implications for the future
  • Lisa J. Graumlich (with Andrew G. Bunn) – The quickening pace and widening scope of ecosystem transformation under climate change
  • Rosamond L. Naylor – Food Security Under Shifting Economic, Demographic, and Climatic Conditions

brownThe session culminated with closing remarks California Governor Jerry Brown who described the need for translation of scientific information into formats that can be used by decision makers. Video of the session can be accessed through the AGU website; information is here.

Poster Presentationpurcell

Highlights from the report were presented in a poster in the Friday morning session on “Understanding 400 ppm Climate: Past, Present and Future.” The poster was entitled “Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts: a study from the National Academy of Sciences.”

Download the poster as a PDF file (4.7 MB)


Olympia Snowe highlights report

Senator Olympia Snowe highlighted the report in her AGU Presidential Forum address, citing the report in her discussion of the lack of Federal response on climate change to warnings from the scientific community. Video of the address can be accessed through the AGU website; information is here.