London, 2nd March 2023: Scientists from Oregon State University have led an international collaboration that has identified 27 global warming accelerators known as amplifying feedback loops that fuel the acceleration in global temperature change. As per the findings published in the journal “One Earth” on 17th Feb this year, the team warns of the urgency to respond to the climate crisis and provide a roadmap for policymakers aiming to avert the most severe consequences of a warming planet.
In climatology, amplifying feedback loops are situations wherein a climate-caused variation can set off a process that causes even more warming, which in turn intensifies the variation. The lead authors, Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral researcher at OSU, and William Ripple, a distinguished professor of Ecology at OSU, were joined by several US and international scientists as co-authors on the report. The researchers were able to identify 41 climate feedback loops in their report, 27 of which emphasise warming, seven of which have a dampening effect and the rest seven are uncertain.
As per Prof. Wolf, "Many of the feedback loops we examined significantly increase warming because of their connection to greenhouse gas emissions. To the best of our knowledge, this is the most extensive list available of climate feedback loops, and not all of them are fully considered in climate models. What's urgently needed is more research and modelling and an accelerated cutback of emissions."
Motivated by many amplifying climate feedbacks, the authors have made two recommendations. With respect to climate research, a rapid transition toward integrated Earth system science is needed in order to fully account for biological, social, and other interactions that may influence the climate. In terms of climate policy, more aspiring plans for emission reduction should be followed given both ongoing climate disasters and long-term catastrophic risks.
Prof. Ripple, while explaining the significance of the research, said, “It’s too late to fully prevent the pain of climate change, but if we take meaningful steps soon while prioritising human basic needs and social justice, it could still be possible to limit the harm.”
As per the researchers, even comparatively modest warming is expected to heighten the likelihood that the Earth will cross various tipping points, causing big changes in the planet’s climate system and potentially strengthening the amplifying feedbacks.
The team claims that emissions have risen substantially over the last century despite several warnings that have been issued over the decades, they are not being significantly curbed. As per the scientists, interactions among feedback loops could cause a permanent shift away from the Earth’s current climate state to one that threatens the survival of humans and other life forms.
“In the worst case, if amplifying feedbacks are strong enough, it would result in tragic climate change which would be beyond human control,” Ripple said. “We need a rapid transition toward integrated Earth system science because the climate can only be fully understood by considering the functioning and state of all Earth systems together. This will require large-scale collaboration, and the result would provide better information for policymakers,” he further added.
Apart from these 27 amplifying climate feedbacks, there were seven additional factors that were characterised as dampening i.e they act to stabilise the climate system. However, the effects of the remaining seven feedbacks are not yet known.