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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Climate Science Glossary

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Abrupt climate change

Also: Rapid climate change

"By the 20th century, scientists had rejected old tales of world catastrophe, and were convinced that global climate could change only gradually over many tens of thousands of years. But in the 1950s, a few scientists found evidence that some changes in the past had taken only a few thousand years. During the 1960s and 1970s other data, supported by new theories and new attitudes about human influences, reduced the time a change might require to hundreds of years. Many doubted that such a rapid shift could have befallen the planet as a whole. The 1980s and 1990s brought proof (chiefly from studies of ancient ice) that the global climate could indeed shift, radically and catastrophically, within a century — perhaps even within a decade." - from The Discovery of Global Warming

IPCC AR4 definition: "The nonlinearity of the climate system may lead to abrupt climate change, sometimes called rapid climate change, abrupt events or even surprises. The term abrupt often refers to time scales faster than the typical time scale of the responsible forcing. However, not all abrupt climate changes need be externally forced. Some possible abrupt events that have been proposed include a dramatic reorganisation of the thermohaline circulation, rapid deglaciation and massive melting of permafrost or increases in soil respiration leading to fast changes in the carbon cycle. Others may be truly unexpected, resulting from a strong, rapidly changing forcing of a nonlinear system."

All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.



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