Intriguing Tipping Points TV Series Begins Airing Saturday at 9pm EDT

Published: 12:09 PM GMT on October 18, 2013

How does one tell the most important story of our time--the emergence of our great Climate Disruption--without boring one's audience to tears, but at the same time, not resorting to over-hyped spinning of the science? “Tipping Points”, a landmark 6-part TV series that begins airing at 9 pm EDT Saturday, October 19 on The Weather Channel, aims to do just that. "Tipping Points" follows a group of preeminent scientists as they venture off the grid to explore the perilous tipping points making our weather systems more extreme and unpredictable.

The phenomena of “tipping points” follows the concept that, at a particular moment in time, a small change can have a large, long-term consequence on a fragile climate system already in a state of flux. Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Further, when the situation is pushed past the “tipping point,” it will potentially lead to a chain reaction, putting other ecosystems around the globe in peril. “Tipping Points” will feature several of the most critical examples, including the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, total melting of the Himalayan icecap glaciers, die-back of the Amazon rainforest, shutdown of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation, and the rapid melt of the permafrost in Siberia. "Tipping Points" will not only show how climate changes affect local communities in exotic and distant locales like the Amazon or Siberia, but how it impacts and is relevant to people from Australia and Asia to Europe, South America to Canada and every community in between. The series explores what is happening at the most dramatic tipping points and looks to find answers to understand what can be done to stem the tide of change before we do irreparable damage, and ultimately put our own lives at risk.

The series is hosted by polar explorer and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom, the first woman to climb Mt. Everest and walk to the North and South Poles. She is joined by a number of leading international environmental scientists in each episode, such as Dr. Jason Box, Dr. Matthew England, Professor Peter Cox, and more. In each episode, Notenboom heads off to a far corner of the world to find scientists in the field undertaking vital climate research to try to understand how the climate system is changing and how long we have to make significant changes before we reach a tipping point--a point of no return when our climate system will be changed irreversibly.

The first episode at 9 pm EDT/8 pm CDT this Saturday will be "Amazon Rainforest Risks". "Tipping Points" host Bernice Notenboom will join Peter Cox, Professor of Climate System Dynamics at the University of Exeter, on an expedition across the vast Amazon Rainforest to explore the mega droughts and tree deaths occurring that threaten the forest's survival this century. The Amazon stores CO2 in its soils and biomass equivalent to about fifteen years of human-caused emissions, so a massive die-back of the forest could greatly accelerate global warming. Photosynthesis in the world's largest rainforest keeps the Earth cooler by taking about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. However, exceptional droughts in both 2005 and 2010 reversed this process. The Amazon emitted 3 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2005, causing a net 5 billion ton increase in CO2 to the atmosphere--roughly equivalent to 19% of the total CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that year. A 2013 NASA-led study found that an area of the Amazon rainforest twice the size of California continues to suffer from the effects of the 2005 mega drought. A 2008 paper by Professor Cox warned that their climate model predicted a rapidly increasing risk of 2005-like droughts from 1-in-20 years in the present climate to 1-in-2 years by 2025, if we continue emitting CO2 at our current "business-as-usual" pace. A 2013 study by Fu et al. found that the dry season length has grown by about seven days per decade in the southern part of the rainforest. If this trend continues in coming decades at half of that rate, the fire season that contributed to the 2005 drought would become the new norm by the late 21st century. The leader of the study, Rong Fu, explained: "The dry season over the southern Amazon is already a marginal for maintaining rainforest. At some point, if it becomes too long, the rainforest will reach a tipping point."

Typhoon Francisco headed towards Japan
Category 4 Typhoon Francisco continues to intensify over the warm waters of the Western Pacific about 200 miles west of Guam. Even though the eye of Francisco passed more than 150 miles west of Guam Friday morning, the huge storm brought sustained winds of 37 mph, gusting to 46 mph, to the island, along with 6.75" of rain. Satellite loops show that Francisco is well-organized with an impressive area of heavy thunderstorms and a prominent eye. With warm waters that extend to great depth and low wind shear, continued strengthening is likely, and Francisco is forecast to become a super typhoon with 150 mph winds by Saturday as it heads northwest towards Japan. The European model now shows that Francisco will miss Japan, but the GFS model predicts that Francisco will hit Japan on Thursday next week. There is very high uncertainty in the storm's track that far into the future, since the timing of Francisco's turn the northeast is difficult to predict.

The Atlantic is quiet
None of the reliable computer models for forecasting tropical cyclone genesis is predicting development over the next five days.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.