Chaos theory provides clues to control the weather


In a project led by the RIKEN Center for Computational Science, researchers used computer simulations to show that weather phenomena such as sudden downpours could potentially be changed by making small adjustments to certain variables in the weather system. They did this by taking advantage of a system known as a “butterfly attractor” in chaos theory, where a system can have one of two states – like the wings of a butterfly – and that it switches between the two states based on small changes under certain conditions.

As weather forecasting has reached high levels of accuracy through methods such as supercomputer-based simulations and data assimilation, where observational data is incorporated into simulations, scientists have long hoped to be able to control the weather. Research in this area has intensified due to climate change, which has brought about more extreme weather events such as torrential rains and storms.

There are weather modification methods currently available, but they have had limited success. Seeding the atmosphere to induce rain has been demonstrated, but this is only possible when the atmosphere is already in a state where it could rain. Geo-engineering projects have been considered, but not carried out due to concerns about the long-term unintended effects they might have.

As a promising approach, researchers from the RIKEN team turned to chaos theory to create realistic possibilities for mitigating weather events such as torrential rains. Specifically, they focused on a phenomenon known as the butterfly attractor, proposed by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorentz, one of the founders of modern chaos theory. Essentially, it refers to a system that can adopt one of two orbits that resemble the wings of a butterfly, but can change the orbits randomly based on small fluctuations in the system.

To do the work, the RIKEN team ran a weather simulation, to serve as a check on “nature” itself, and then ran other simulations, using small variations in a number of variables describing convection. – how heat moves through the system – – and found that small changes in several of the variables together could cause the system to be in a certain state after a certain amount of time had passed.

According to Takemasa Miyoshi of the RIKEN Center for Computational Science, who led the team, “This paves the way for research on the controllability of time and could lead to time control technology. If it comes to fruition, this research could us help prevent and mitigate extreme windstorms”. , such as torrential rains and typhoons, the risks of which increase with climate change.”

“We have built a new theory and methodology to study the controllability of time,” he continues. “Based on the observing system simulation experiments used in previous predictability studies, we were able to design an experiment to study predictability based on the assumption that true values ​​(nature) cannot be changed, but rather that we can change the idea of ​​what can be changed (the object to be controlled).”

As for the future, he says, “In this case, we used an ideal low-dimensional model to develop a new theory, and in the future, we plan to use real weather models to study the possible controllability of time.”

The work, published in Nonlinear Processes of Geophysics, was carried out as part of the Moonshot R&D Millennia program, contributing to the new Moonshot #8 objective.

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Material provided by RIKEN. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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