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9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Type

  • Videos, 3 minutes, 47 seconds, CC

Regional Focus


Climate Tipping Points

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  • This short video defines the concept of a climate tipping point as the point within a changing climatic system that pushes past stability and results in a breakdown of order and normal function.
  • The narrating professor describes examples of climate tipping points, including the breakdown of the rain cycle in the Amazon Rainforest, melting Arctic ice, and changing ocean circulation.
  • The professor effectively conveys how the consequences of large systems in the biosphere tipping past the point of equilibrium can have major effects on the biosphere.
Teaching Tips


  • This video exemplifies scientific discourse related to climate change at the college level and can be used to prepare high school students for future science classes.
  • The professor references well-known examples of climate tipping points with which students are likely already familiar and also draws analogies to riding a bike or using a kayak.
  • Various climate tipping points are illustrative examples for studying positive feedback loops and thermodynamics.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should understand scientific concepts and terms such as atmosphere, equilibrium, evaporation, and ocean circulation.
  • It may benefit students if they understand the human impacts that push Earth's systems out of sync.


  • Before watching the video, have students explore observable tipping points by trying to balance various objects around the classroom and identifying their tipping points.
  • Before watching the video, consider having students predict a climate tipping point using a think-pair-and-share format, leading to a whole group discussion to formulate one class prediction.
  • While watching the video, pause after each example that the professor explains and have students describe how the example fits the definition of a tipping point.
  • Have students choose one example from the three listed (Amazon Rainforest rainfall, Arctic ice melt, and ocean circulation changes) and research the causes and consequences of their chosen climate tipping point.
Scientist Notes
Emeritus Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University presents a thoughtful description of climate tipping points and provides three examples. The presenter makes tipping points immediately relatable to students by using the example of the tipping point when riding a bicycle or kayaking. The professor presents the Amazon rainforest, Arctic sea ice, and ocean circulations as examples of environmental systems at a climate tipping point. The professor highlights the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate environmental systems throughout the three example cases. This resource is informative, engaging, and recommended for teaching.

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

  • 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.
  • English Language Arts
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • SL.ES.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.
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