Deep learning for early warning signals of tipping points


Many natural systems exhibit tipping points where slowly changing environmental conditions spark a sudden shift to a new and sometimes very different state. As the tipping point is approached, the dynamics of complex and varied systems simplify down to a limited number of possible “normal forms” that determine qualitative aspects of the new state that lies beyond the tipping point, such as whether it will oscillate or be stable. In several of those forms, indicators like increasing lag-1 autocorrelation and variance provide generic early warning signals (EWS) of the tipping point by detecting how dynamics slow down near the transition. But they do not predict the nature of the new state. Here we develop a deep learning algorithm that provides EWS in systems it was not explicitly trained on, by exploiting information about normal forms and scaling behavior of dynamics near tipping points that are common to many dynamical systems. The algorithm provides EWS in 268 empirical and model time series from ecology, thermoacoustics, climatology, and epidemiology with much greater sensitivity and specificity than generic EWS. It can also predict the normal form that characterizes the oncoming tipping point, thus providing qualitative information on certain aspects of the new state. Such approaches can help humans better prepare for, or avoid, undesirable state transitions. The algorithm also illustrates how a universe of possible models can be mined to recognize naturally occurring tipping points.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences