Nonlinear softening as a predictive precursor to climate tipping

Jan Sieber, J. Michael T. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Approaching a dangerous bifurcation, from which a dynamical system such as the Earth's climate will jump (tip) to a different state, the current stable state lies within a shrinking basin of attraction. Persistence of the state becomes increasingly precarious in the presence of noisy disturbances. We argue that one needs to extract information about the nonlinear features (a ‘softening’) of the underlying potential from the time series to judge the probability and timing of tipping. This analysis is the logical next step if one has detected a decrease of the linear decay rate. If there is no discernible trend in the linear analysis, nonlinear softening is even more important in showing the proximity to tipping. After extensive normal-form calibration studies, we check two geological time series from palaeo-climate tipping events for softening of the underlying well. For the ending of the last ice age, where we find no convincing linear precursor, we identify a statistically significant nonlinear softening towards increasing temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1205-1227
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences
Issue number1962
Early online date30 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2012


  • time-series analysis
  • bifurcation prediction
  • climate tipping


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