« Putting the Human Back Into the Post-Human -- The Motion Picture | Main | Biopolitics of Pop Culture -- Updated »

New Fast Company: Multifractals in the Sky, With Power-Laws

My latest Fast Company essay is now up. "Is the Atmosphere Simpler Than We Thought?" takes a look at some recent research claiming that the atmosphere demonstrates a multifractal power-law structure.

McGill University physicist Shaun Lovejoy kept coming back to the idea, though, and he and his team found suggestive indications that there was a multifractal process at work. (Standard fractal systems involve a single exponent defining the "fractal dimension" of a system; multifractal systems involve a range of exponents, given the label "singularity exponent." Seriously.) The available data weren't clear though, because the readings were muddied by the effects of the very aircraft and instruments used to gather them. So Lovejoy looked up--to satellites. And digging through data from 1,200 consecutive orbits of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, the team came up with something pretty remarkable: very strong evidence that the atmosphere follows power laws and shows fractal behavior, visible at scales from under 10km to over 20,000km.

When translated into climate system models, this would allow for modeling of behavior at millimeter scales -- a hundred million times more precise than current models, according to New Scientist. Woah.


I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case in the artificial case of a totally homogeneous atmosphere with standard temperature, pressure and other conditions everywhere. Can this genuinely be extrapolated to dynamic atmospheric conditions?

The reputation of New Scientist in my eyes weakens rather than strengthens the perception of its likelihood. I long ago stopped subscribing due to poor scientific vetting of articles.

Lovejoy worked with real-world data (the 1200 orbits of the TRMM mentioned in the excerpt) to generate the multifractal model, so I don't think the quick dismissal is necessarily warranted.

If you go to the Fast Company piece, I link to the original article, if you're up for some multifractal mathematics.

I read the New Scientist article (I should have gone directly to the source but I only had access to the dead tree version as I was increasing my carbon footprint on vacation, er investigating high salinity tolerant coral reefs in the red sea...). So I see that it is likely a good model validator at the 10km level and should help to eliminate bad models. But the millimeter scale still appears wishful thinking.

So how much will a 10km model validator increase weather forecasting or climate prediction?

Post a comment

All comments go through moderation, so if it doesn't show up immediately, I'm not available to click the "okiedoke" button. Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality.


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37