Anticipating Critical Transitions


The authors define a “tipping point” in terms of “a catastrophic bifurcation, where a minor trigger can invoke a self-propagating shift to a contrasting state.” Such “critical transitions” appear in nature and society but remain difficult to predict. The authors propose that complex systems with feature high connectivity and high homogeneity are particularly vulnerable to critical transitions, whereas those with lower connectivity and higher diversity tend to experience more gradual change. Early warning signals of an impending tipping point include “critical slowing down,” in which the system takes more and more time to recover from each successive perturbation, and “flickering,” when the system shifts rapidly back and forth between equilibria.


Marten Scheffer, Stephen R. Carpenter, Timothy M. Lenton, Jordi Bascompte, Visilis Dakos, Johan van de Koppel, Ingrid A. van de Leemput, Simon A. Levin, Egbert H. van Nes, Mercedes Pascual, and John Vandermeer

Publication Date

19 October 2012


Science (vol. 338, iss. 6105)



Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Resource Theme

Sustainability and Transition • Theory Building
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