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  • Writer's pictureAryan Shah

Chaos is the new order.

Chaos theory really helps me to understand why our world is so complex - the bigger picture and its much smaller systems included.

We often think of chaos theory as an obstacle in our path to obtaining accurate, deterministic results when simulating, predicting or calculating complex systems and their behaviour over a period of time.

Granted, long term prediction of such behaviour is risky, especially if the livelihoods of many depend on the outcome. This is because of the way chaos theory is described by the butterfly effect whereby a butterfly flapping its wings in South America is enough to cause a hurricane in China.

This revolves around the dogma that small changes in the input of a large non-linear equation could potentially lead to massive fluctuations in the end result or output.

When it comes to our clumsy species, discrepancies, changes, calculation or rounding errors in calculating the behaviour of a complex system would lead to changes in the expected result. This includes things like weather forecasts, where on many occasions the weather we expect is not always the weather we get on the day. It's because our calculations can only be so accurate and I guarantee you that there will always be some rounding or human error involved, meaning one thing goes wrong and ultimately we get a result that no one could predict.

I mean as I said, this does sound like a largely negative thing. But I'm convinced that we can utilise chaos theory and such non-linear behaviour to our advantage, especially in the earth sciences.

I believe that meteorologists could use chaos theory and keep it in their minds at all times to take into account its presence when determining the potential and active paths of hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. Could they make more representative simulations and models? They very well could do!

What if we could make seafloor mapping more accurate than ever thought of before by factoring in the OGCM (ocean general circulation model) and the thermohaline circulation and their non-repetitive patterns. This would really help us harness the true power of our UAV's (underwater autonomous vehicles) and use the right equipment for the right occasions.

You know what, even the COVID-19 pandemic is related to chaos theory. So really, epidemiologists studying the pattern of the outbreak could really benefit by taking the varying initial parameters and limits into account when thinking about possible large scale fluctuations and differences in expected infection patterns.

The classic quote from Wally Broecker in his book ‘How to Build a Habitable Planet’ :

“Chaos occurs in common equations where the outcome is so sensitive to the tiniest of changes in initial conditions or constants in the equations that long-term prediction is impossible.”

really hammers home just how careful we ideally should be when it comes to calculating large or small scale chaotic natural phenomena.

But really, at the end of the day we can’t predict perfectly in the Earth Sciences, but we can predict better with chaos theory at our side and in our minds at all times.


Fractal Foundation - - date accessed (14/9/21)

How to Build a habitable Planet - Wally Broecker - date accessed (12/1/20)

Chaos: The science of the butterfly effect - - date accessed (15/9/21)

This equation will change how you see the world - - date accessed (11/9/21)

How chaos theory unravels the mysteries of nature - - date accessed (13/9/21)

An unpredictable universe - - date accessed (17/9/21)

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