EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Dynamic emergence of domino effects in systems of interacting tipping elements in ecology and climate

Ann Kristin Klose1,2, Volker Karle1,3, Ricarda Winkelmann1,4, and Jonathan F. Donges1,5
Ann Kristin Klose et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Earth System Analysis, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany
  • 3Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Klosterneuburg, Austria
  • 4Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
  • 5Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

In ecology, climate and other fields, systems have been identified that can transition into a qualitatively different state when a critical threshold or tipping point in a driving process is crossed. An understanding of those tipping elements is of great interest given the increasing influence of humans on the biophysical Earth system. Tipping elements are not independent from each other as there exist complex interactions, e.g. through physical mechanisms that connect subsystems of the climate system.
Based on earlier work on such coupled nonlinear systems, we systematically assessed the qualitative long-term behavior of interacting tipping elements. We developed an understanding of the consequences of interactions on the tipping behavior allowing for domino effects and tipping cascades to emerge under certain conditions.
The application of these qualitative results to real-world examples of interacting tipping elements shows that domino effects with profound consequences can occur: the interacting Greenland ice sheet and thermohaline ocean circulation might tip before the tipping points of the isolated subsystems are crossed. The eutrophication of the first lake in a lake chain might propagate through the following lakes without a crossing of their individual critical nutrient input levels.  
The possibility of emerging domino effects calls for the development of a unified theory of interacting tipping elements and the quantitative analysis of interacting real-world tipping elements.

How to cite: Klose, A. K., Karle, V., Winkelmann, R., and Donges, J. F.: Dynamic emergence of domino effects in systems of interacting tipping elements in ecology and climate, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-4490,, 2020.


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