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09 January 2009

Chaos and Predictability of Weather/Climate Models

The accuracy of predictions of climate/weather models for long range predictions are poor because the atmosphere and ocean system are easily entering chaotic regions.

Chaotic behavior has been observed in the laboratory in a variety of systems including electrical circuits, lasers, oscillating chemical reactions, fluid dynamics, and mechanical and magneto-mechanical devices. Observations of chaotic behavior in nature include the dynamics of satellites in the solar system, the time evolution of the magnetic field of celestial bodies, population growth in ecology, the dynamics of the action potentials in neurons, and molecular vibrations. Everyday examples of chaotic systems include weather and climate. There is some controversy over the existence of chaotic dynamics in the plate tectonics and in economics.
Systems that exhibit mathematical chaos are deterministic and thus orderly in some sense; this technical use of the word chaos is at odds with common parlance, which suggests complete disorder. A related field of physics called quantum chaos theory studies systems that follow the laws of quantum mechanics. Recently, another field, called relativistic chaos, has emerged to describe systems that follow the laws of general relativity.
This article tries to describe limits on the degree of disorder that computers can model with simple rules that have complex results. For example, the Lorenz system pictured is chaotic, but has a clearly defined structure. Bounded chaos is a useful term for describing models of disorder.

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