Feedbacks are processes in which outputs from the process have an effect on the inputs to that same process. Sometimes feedback processes act to offset or inhibit a change (negative feedback), and sometimes they act to amplify a change (positive feedback). Examples of negative feedback include the maintenance of your body temperature: when you get too warm, you trigger various mechanisms (e.g. perspiration) to cool you down and vice versa. A common example of positive feedback is often associated with amplified music or speech, when the microphone is placed too close to a loudspeaker… someone speaks/ sings/ plays into the microphone, the noise is amplified, and comes out of the speaker. If some of this amplified noise goes back into the microphone, it gets amplified again etc. etc. and the end result is a deafening whine.

There are many examples of feedbacks in the climate system. If the atmosphere gets warmer, ice melts. Ice reflects a lot of incoming solar radiation, so if it melts, less gets reflected, more gets absorbed by the Earth and the atmosphere gets warmer; a positive feedback. On the other hand, if there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, some plants grow faster, absorbing more carbon dioxide and eventually reducing its amount in the atmosphere; a negative feedback.

Because of the complexity of the climate system, due to the presence of feedbacks within it, we need to try to represent the whole system as thoroughly as possible in order to simulate the likely changes. We need to be able to understand how and where feedbacks act, and how large they are.