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Tipping point triggers shift in people & nature

What do abrupt changes in ocean circulation and earth's climate, shifts in wildlife populations and ecosystems, global finance market and epileptic seizures have in common?

world Updated: Sep 06, 2009 00:44 IST

What do abrupt changes in ocean circulation and earth's climate, shifts in wildlife populations and ecosystems, global finance market and epileptic seizures have in common?

All of them share generic early-warning signals that indicate a critical threshold of change, or tipping points dead ahead, says a new study.

That tipping point may be as tiny as the alveoli in human lungs or as large as the global climate.

Martin Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and co-authors William Brock and Stephen Carpenter of University of Wisconsin-Madison and George Sugihara of Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that similar symptoms occur in many systems as they approach a critical state of transition. "It's increasingly clear that many complex systems have critical thresholds -- 'tipping points' -- at which these systems shift abruptly from one state to another," write the study authors.

"These are compelling insights into the transitions in human and natural systems," says Henry Gholz, programme director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology.

“The information comes at a critical time — a time when earth's and our fragility have been highlighted by global financial collapses, debates over health care reform, and concern about rapid change in climate and ecological systems," Gholz adds.