Seminar - Coevolution of human-environment systems in the Anthropocene

Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system are continental-scale subsystems that are characterized by a threshold behavior. It has been suggested that these include biosphere components (e.g. the Amazon rainforest and coral reefs), cryosphere components (e.g. the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) and large-scale atmospheric and oceanic circulations (e.g. the thermohaline circulation, ENSO and Indian summer monsoon). Once operating near a threshold or tipping point that may be approached due to anthropogenic climate change , these components can transgress into a qualitatively different state by small external perturbations. The large-scale environmental consequences could impact the livelihoods of millions of people.

In this seminar, Dr Jonathan Donges reports on recent research on individual tipping elements such as the Antarctic Ice Sheet, reinforcing (positive) feedbacks on anthropogenic global warming mediated by cryospheric tipping elements, interactions between climate tipping elements and the risk for resulting tipping cascades. Finally, he will present work on the potentials for positive social tipping dynamics that could help to achieve the rapid decarbonization of the world’s social-economic systems needed to stabilize the Earth’s climate in line with the Paris climate agreement.


About the speaker

Dr. Jonathan Donges is co-leader of the FutureLab on Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene ( at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK, Germany), group leader of the PIK working group on Whole Earth System Analysis and co-speaker of the COPAN collaboration ( He also holds a researcher position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Sweden, embedded in the Planetary Boundary Research Network and the Earth League's EarthDoc program. Jonathan holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Humboldt University Berlin and has published on a variety of topics including Earth system analysis, climatology, paleoclimate, social-ecological systems, complex networks, complex systems theory, nonlinear dynamics, time series analysis.