Press Release

Tipping elements can destabilize each other, leading to climate domino effects

06/03/2021 - Under global warming, tipping elements in the Earth system can destabilize each other and eventually lead to climate domino effects. The ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica are potential starting points for tipping cascades, a novel network analysis reveals. The Atlantic overturning circulation would then act as a transmitter, and eventually elements like the Amazon rainforest would be impacted. The consequences for people would reach from sea-level rise to biosphere degradation. Interactions in the network can lower the critical temperature thresholds beyond which individual tipping elements begin destabilizing on the long-run, according to the study – the risk already increases significantly for warming of 1.5°C to 2°C, hence within the temperature range of the Paris Agreement.
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Press Release

Ice loss due to warming leads to warming due to ice loss: a vicious circle

10/27/2020 - The loss of huge ice masses can contribute to the warming that is causing this loss and further risks. A new study now quantifies this feedback by exploring long-term if-then-scenarios. If the Arctic summer sea-ice were to melt completely, a scenario that is likely to become reality at least temporarily within this century with ongoing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, this could eventually add roughly 0.2°C to global warming. This is, however, not in addition to IPCC projections of future warming since these already take the relevant mechanisms into account. Still, the scientists could now separate the effects of the ice loss from other effects and quantify it. The 0.2°C are substantial, given that global mean temperature is currently about one degree higher than in pre-industrial times, and governments worldwide agreed to stop the increase well below two degrees.
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Stability Check on Antarctica Reveals High Risk for Long-Term Sea-Level Rise

09/23/2020 - The warmer it gets, the faster Antarctica loses ice – and much of it will then be gone forever. Consequences for the world’s coastal cities and cultural heritage sites would be detrimental, from London to Mumbai, and from New York to Shanghai. That’s what a team of researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam University and New York’s Columbia University has found out in their new study, published in Nature (cover story), on how much warming the Antarctic Ice Sheet can survive. In around one million hours of computation time, their unprecedentedly detailed simulations delineate where exactly and at which warming levels the ice would become unstable and eventually melt and drain into the ocean. They find a delicate concert of accelerating and moderating effects, but the main conclusion is that unmitigated climate change would have dire long-term consequences: If the global mean temperature level is sustained long enough at 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels, Antarctic melting alone could eventually raise global sea levels by more than six meters.
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Caring for the future is key for cooperation to prevent climate collapse: study

20/05/2020 - How much decision-makers care about the future and not just the present is one key factor for whether or not they take action to stabilize our climate. Another one is how severe they assume the impacts of climate collapse to be. However, the number of actors is decisive – for instance the number of relevant countries, since efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have to be international to add up to the amount needed to prevent a crisis. This is shown by a novel mathematical study. It finds a strong effect of diffusion of responsibility in scenarios with large numbers of actors. The study combines game theory and learning dynamics to explore which options for enhanced political cooperation should now urgently be studied empirically.
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Climate disasters increase risks of armed conflicts: new evidence

02/04/2020 - The risk for violent clashes increases after weather extremes such as droughts or floods hit people in vulnerable countries, an international team of scientists finds. Vulnerable countries are characterized by a large population, political exclusion of particular ethnic groups, and low development. The study combines global statistical analysis, observation data and regional case study assessments to yield new evidence for policy-makers.
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Tipping mechanisms could spark profound societal change towards climate stabilization: new study

21/01/2020 - Limiting global warming to well below 2°C requires a decarbonized world by 2050 at the latest and a corresponding global transformation of the energy and land use systems of societies across the world. To achieve this goal of net-zero carbon by 2050 emissions need to be cut by half every decade from now on. An interdisciplinary team of researchers now explored tipping mechanisms that have the potential to spark rapid yet constructive societal changes towards climate stabilization and overall sustainability. These tipping elements and mechanisms could bring about a transition that is fast enough for meeting the targets of the Paris climate agreement. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the scientists identify six socio-economic tipping elements and related interventions that could bring such a transition to a deep and rapid global decarbonization on its way.
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Artificial Intelligence: applying ‚Deep Reinforcement Learning‘ for sustainable development

20/12/2019 - For the first time, a specific way of machine learning has been used to find novel pathways for sustainable development. So far, the so-called 'Deep Reinforcement Learning' has mostly been used to make computers excel in certain games, such as AlphaGo, or navigate robots through rough terrain. Now, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research developed a mathematical framework combining recently developed machine learning techniques with more classical analysis of trajectories in computer simulations of the global climate system and the global economy. The results, published in the interdisciplinary journal on nonlinear phenomena 'Chaos', are promising.
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Planetary boundaries: Interactions in the Earth system amplify human impacts

16/12/2019 - What we do to one part of our Earth system does not just add to what we do to other parts – transgressing one planetary boundary can amplify human impacts on another one. For the first time, an international team of scientists now quantified some of the planetary-scale interactions in the Earth system. These biophysical interactions have in fact almost doubled direct human impacts on the nine planetary boundaries, from climate change to freshwater use. This insight can now be applied in policy design for safeguarding the livelihoods of generations to come.
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Global food production at risk of simultaneous heat waves across breadbasket regions

09/12/2019 - Certain patterns in the jet stream encircling the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions responsible for up to a quarter of global food production. Particularly susceptible are Western North America, Western Europe, Western Russia and Ukraine. Extreme weather events of such extent can significantly harm food production and thus make prices soar. In recent years, major food price spikes were associated with social unrest.
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New method to better understand much-employed self-learning Artificial Intelligence

11/04/2019 - Recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research result from the combination of deep neuronal networks and reinforcement learning. In the latter, agents are able to learn rewarding behaviours in unknown environments by an iterative trial-and-error behaviour update process. But this process is not yet fully understood. Reinforcement learning agents are a specific area of AI. As AI can have a big impact on society, a better understanding AI systems is crucial to assess potential challenges and risks. Already today, AI is employed to steer cars, manage production lines, or even draft texts. A team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has developed a new method to investigate those algorithms using insights from statistical physics. Published in the journal Physical Reviews E, their insights can help to improve the design of large-scale AI reinforcement learning systems.
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Leibniz Start-Up Award for "elena international" from PIK

25/03/2019 - "Electricity network analysis" - the spin-off "elena" of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has been awarded the Leibniz Start-Up Award 2019. Endowed with 50,000 euros, the prize was awarded for a new application for the expansion of renewable energies in micro and island power systems.
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Jonathan Donges awarded with most important prize for young German researchers

28/02/2019 - The German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research have awarded Jonathan Donges of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research with the most important German prize for young researchers. The Heinz Mayer-Leibnitz Prize will be awarded on 28 May to a total of ten scientists, from chemists to historians. It is endowed with 20,000 euros each. Donges is co-lead of the PIK Future Lab "Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene".
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Time series networks: “Transforming messy big data into something comprehensible”

04/02/2019 - A first in-depth review of time series networks has now been published by an international team of scientists in Physics Reports, one of the leading journals in its field. While both nonlinear time series analysis and complex networks theory are widely considered to be established areas of research, the combination of both approaches has now become an active field of scientific progress. The review discusses in great detail on more than 80 pages three main approaches. Examples that the authors touch upon reach from climatology to neurophysiology and economics. The team of authors is led by Yong Zou from East China Normal University, Shanghai, while all other authors are from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research, including Jürgen Kurths, co-chair of the department for Complexity Science.
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Ranking: the climate papers most featured in online media

12/01/2019 - Scientific publications from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scored well in online and social media. The UK online news outlet Carbon Brief just published an interesting ranking based on Altmetric that - while it is certainly not comprehensive since the data base is not comprehensive - gives some indications which papers in 2018 have been most referred to in the public. Of course, the list most prominently features the "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene" (or 'Hothouse Earth') paper by, amongst others, PIK's Johan Rockström, Jonathan Donges, Ricarda Winkelmann, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber published in PNAS. Carbon Brief calls it the climate science paper that scored top in media. Looking at all scientific publications in 2018 - hence beyond the field of climate research - it still is the fifth most talked-about of all journal papers, which is enormous.
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Planet at risk of heading towards irreversible “Hothouse Earth” state

06/08/2018 - Keeping global warming to within 1.5-2°C may be more difficult than previously assessed. An international team of scientists has published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showing that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of the planet entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions. A “Hothouse Earth” climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today, the paper says. The authors conclude it is now urgent to greatly accelerate the transition towards an emission-free world economy.
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Better be safe than sorry: economic optimization risks tipping of important Earth system elements

06/15/2018 - Optimizing economic welfare without constraints might put human well-being at risk, a new climate study argues. While being successful in bringing down costs of greenhouse gas reductions for instance, the concept of profit maximization alone does not suffice to avoid the tipping of critical elements in the Earth system which could lead to dramatic changes of our livelihood. The scientists use mathematical experiments to compare economic optimization to the governance concepts of sustainability and the more recent approach of a safe operating space for humanity. All of these turn out to have their benefits and deficits, yet the profit-maximizing approach shows the greatest likelihood of producing outcomes that harm people or the environment.
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PIK scientists at the Chaos Communication Congress 34C3

29/12/2017 - For four days between Christmas and New Year´s, thousands of hackers, experts and artists meet every year to exchange news and views and learn about new technological developments and tools. The 34th Chaos Communication Congress (34C3) takes place in Leipzig this year, the organizers expect more than 13.000 participants. Science is represented as well, this year also by experts of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) - climate change is one of this year´s main themes.
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Climate disasters increase risk of armed conflict in multi-ethnic countries

07/26/2016 - Climate disasters like heat-waves or droughts enhance the risk of armed conflicts in countries with high ethnic diversity, scientists found. They used a novel statistical approach to analyze data from the past three decades. While each conflict is certainly the result of a complex and specific mix of factors, it turns out that the outbreak of violence in ethnically fractionalized countries is often linked to natural disasters that may fuel smoldering social tensions. This finding, to be published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, can help in the design of security policies – even more so since future global warming from human-made greenhouse-gas emissions will increase natural disasters and therefore likely also risks of conflicts and migration.
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Health, energy and extreme events in a changing climate

06/07/2016 - Floods, droughts, blackouts of power networks – the potential for risks that can be linked directly or indirectly to public health grows with a changing climate. In a now published special issue of the European Physical Journal, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and other institutions analyze the complex interactions of public health, energy production and climate change. They shed light on the linkages, and also present new methods how these interrelations of different sectors can be further examined.
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Climate macroscope: new software for future research

12/23/2015 - Researchers have developed a new open source Python-based software package for examining climate change and other data-heavy networks on a macroscopic level.
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Distinguishing coincidence from causality: connections in the climate system

10/07/2015 - Detecting how changes in one spot on Earth – in temperature, rain, wind – are linked to changes in another, far away area is key to assessing climate risks. Scientists now developed a new technique of finding out if one change can cause another change or not, and which regions are important gateways for such teleconnections. They use advanced mathematical tools for an unprecedented analysis of data from thousands of air pressure measurements. The method now published in Nature Communications can be applied to assess geoengineering impacts as well as global effects of local extreme weather events, and can potentially also be applied to the diffusion of disturbances in financial markets, or the human brain.
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Earth-Docs wanted: a new kind of research position

03/18/2015 - The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) is offering a new kind of research position for outstanding young scientists: they can become an Earth-Doc as part of an international research team working across research institutions and disciplines. The state-of-the-art programme has been launched by the Earth League, an international alliance of 17 leading scientists and institutions, co-founded by PIK. Applicants for the new position focusing on the role of social agents in Earth system dynamics should have a background in global sustainability and modelling.
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Honours for young PIK scientists

12/31/2014 - Jonathan Donges of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research received the Wladimir Peter Köppen Prize for his achievements in modelling the climate system. The award of the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP (Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction) in Hamburg honours outstanding doctoral theses of young scientists under the age of thirty years. The jury described Donges dissertation, submitted to Berlin’s Humboldt University, as an innovative and outstanding contribution to current climate research.
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Networks in the climate system: novel approach by young scientist awarded

12/10/2013 - For his pioneering research on complex networks in our climate system a young scientist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) received a prestigious prize. He was awarded by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at a meeting in San Francisco attended by more than 22,000 earth and space scientists this week. By applying mathematical analysis to, for instance, data from drills in the deep-sea, he detected how shifts in African climate some million years ago influenced the fate of modern man’s ancestors.
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Climate dents in humankind´s family tree: new correlations discovered

12/05/2011 - Climate changes in Earth’s history have influenced the fate of modern man´s ancestors, but until now it has not been clear why some evolutionary variations developed or disappeared. Scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Potsdam University have now provided a novel view on human evolution during the past five million years. A nonlinear statistical analysis of sediments taken from the seafloor near Africa indicates that abrupt changes in climate variability could have had a significant impact on human evolution. In the first instance, the scientists have spotted three primeval tipping points.
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Young scientist wins Study Award in Physics

07/09/2010 – Young PIK-scientist Jonathan Donges was honoured with the Study Award in Physics donated by the Wilhelm and Else Heraeus Foundation in Berlin yesterday. He received the award for his outstanding academic achievement during his diploma studies. The award, offered by the Physical Society of Berlin, is given to the top ten diploma students of each year of Berlin and Potsdam.
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