Despite evidence from a number of Earth systems that abrupt temporal changes known as regime shifts are important, their nature, scale and mechanisms remain poorly documented and understood. Applying principal component analysis, change-point analysis and a sequential t-test analysis of regime shifts to 72 time series, we confirm that the 1980s regime shift represented a major change in the Earth's biophysical systems from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and occurred at slightly different times around the world.