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.