The Trouble with “Impossible” in Complex Systems

The current climate-change driven acceleration in tidewater glacier melt in Greenland is another example of why calling anything “impossible” in complex systems is usually a bad idea:

The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet.

“The general thinking until very recently was that ice sheets don’t react very quickly to climate,” said Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “But that thinking is changing right now, because we’re seeing things that people have thought are impossible.”

[via NY Times]


  1. ‘Improbable’ is the kind of fuzz-speak that would have saved many, no?