The topology of non-linear global carbon dynamics: From tipping points to planetary boundaries

John Anderies, S. R. Carpenter, Will Steffen, Johan Rockström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


We present a minimal model of land use and carbon cycle dynamics and use it to explore the relationship between non-linear dynamics and planetary boundaries. Only the most basic interactions between land cover and terrestrial, atmospheric, and marine carbon stocks are considered in the model. Our goal is not to predict global carbon dynamics as it occurs in the actual Earth System. Rather, we construct a conceptually reasonable heuristic model of a feedback system between different carbon stocks that captures the qualitative features of the actual Earth System and use it to explore the topology of the boundaries of what can be called a 'safe operating space' for humans. The model analysis illustrates the existence of dynamic, non-linear tipping points in carbon cycle dynamics and the potential complexity of planetary boundaries. Finally, we use the model to illustrate some challenges associated with navigating planetary boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number044048
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013


  • critical transitions
  • dynamics
  • landuse change
  • planetary boundaries
  • topology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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