Experts speak of a “feedback loop” that is a cause for growing concern.
Global warming feeds, among other things, on self-perpetuating mechanisms. For example, as the pack ice melts, white surface is lost. But it reflected the sun’s rays more than the sea, which was darker. As a result, temperatures will continue to rise and eventually the sea ice will melt even more. This type of vicious cycle is what scientists call a “feedback loop.” Researchers published what they believe to be the most complete list of these chain reactions to date in the journal One Earth on Friday, February 17.
The researchers counted a total of 41 climate feedback loops: 27 positive, i.e. amplifying global warming, seven negative and seven with still uncertain effects. To create this list, the researchers reviewed all of the scientific literature on the subject. Some feedback loops have been discovered recently, but others may be discovered in the near future, the study notes.
“The future of a habitable planet could be at stake”
Their intensity can vary over time, and while some can be very long-term, they can also come to an end one day (permafrost completely thawed, sea ice completely gone). “If we could understand the feedback loops much better and make the necessary changes (…) we could still have time to limit the damage, the study explains. Conversely, if the worst risks from feedback loops and tipping points were underestimated, could the future of a habitable planet is at stake.”
The effects on the planet may be underestimated by current climate models, but their accuracy is crucial for policy-making, especially with regard to reducing greenhouse gases. The researchers therefore call for a “major international mobilization” of the scientific community to better assess the effects of these feedback loops. In particular, they are calling for an additional report from the IPCC, the UN climate expert group dedicated to the problem.