"Waves" vs. "particles" in the atmosphere's phase space: a pathway to long-range forecasting?

Ghil, Michael; Robertson, Andrew W.

Thirty years ago, E. N. Lorenz provided some approximate limits to atmospheric predictability. The details—in space and time—of atmospheric flow fields are lost after about 10 days. Certain gross flow features recur, however, after times of the order of 10–50 days, giving hope for their prediction. Over the last two decades, numerous attempts have been made to predict these recurrent features. The attempts have involved, on the one hand, systematic improvements in numerical weather prediction by increasing the spatial resolution and physical faithfulness in the detailed models used for this prediction. On the other hand, theoretical attempts motivated by the same goal have involved the study of the large-scale atmospheric motions' phase space and the inhomogeneities therein. These "coarse-graining" studies have addressed observed as well as simulated atmospheric data sets. Two distinct approaches have been used in these studies: the episodic or intermittent and the oscillatory or periodic. The intermittency approach describes multiple-flow (or weather) regimes, their persistence and recurrence, and the Markov chain of transitions among them. The periodicity approach studies intraseasonal oscillations, with periods of 15–70 days, and their predictability. We review these two approaches, "particles" vs. "waves," in the quantum physics analogy alluded to in the title of this article, discuss their complementarity, and outline unsolved problems.


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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

More About This Work

Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Published Here
August 22, 2012