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A perturbed state of a dynamical system is defined as irreversible on a given timescale, if the recovery time scale from this state due to natural processes is substantially longer than the time it takes for the system to reach this perturbed state.

In a climate change context, atmospgeric warming could become irreversible because long-term carbon dioxide removal and ocean heat uptake are both dependent on the same physics of deep-ocean mixing. Sea level rise due to thermal expansion accompanies mixing of heat into the ocean long after carbon dioxide emissions have stopped.

See: Tipping point.


Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions article