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9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Earth and Space Sciences

Regional Focus


Climate Tipping Cascades

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  • This short video describes how a climate tipping cascade occurs when one system in the biosphere is pushed past its tipping point, which influences other systems, resulting in additional systems forced past their tipping points.
  • The narrator is a professor who gives an illustrative example of a melting Greenland ice sheet adding cool water to the Atlantic Ocean, thus slowing its currents and lowering the amount of rainfall in the Amazon Rainforest.
  • The narrator also references the concept of a positive feedback loop accelerating the Greenland ice sheet melting.
Teaching Tips


  • The professor draws an analogy to tipping dominoes to explain the concept of climate tipping cascades, which should help students visualize the interconnectedness of Earth's systems.
  • The video builds off another video in which the professor defines climate tipping points and references the same examples of systems, such as Atlantic Ocean currents and the Amazon Rainforest.

Additional Prerequisites

  • It is recommended to watch the video Climate Tipping Points first to understand some of the narrator's references.
  • Students should understand scientific concepts and terms such as ice sheet, deforestation, and ocean circulation.


  • Consider having students gather objects from around the classroom and arrange them on a table in a system so that when they move one or two objects, they affect the others, like in the arrangement of dominoes.
  • Before watching the video, have students define the term climate tipping point in their own words and ask them to describe some examples.
  • Choose one of the climate tipping points, such as a changing ocean current or melting of a glacier, and ask students to list all the possible global consequences they could think of relating to the tipping point.
  • English language learners may benefit from having a copy of the video's transcript in their preferred language.
Scientist Notes
This video resource features Will Steffen of the Australian National University discussing climate tipping cascades. Starting with the example of tipping a row of dominoes, Professor Steffen then turns to the melting Greenland Ice Sheet, which affects circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, impacting rainfall in the Amazon. This issue is exacerbated by the Brazilian government allowing increasing deforestation for cattle farming, leading to an impending tipping point where the Amazon will be completely deforested. This video resource clearly shows the interconnectedness of distant parts of the climate system and how human activity leads to a “double whammy”, as Professor Steffen puts it. Students could use this resource as a springboard to explore other climate tipping cascades. This resource features stunning visuals and is recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • English Language Arts
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.
  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
      • HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-5. Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth’s systems.
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