'Butterfly Effect' New Model To Help With Reliability Of Future Forecasts

First Posted: Aug 19, 2015 10:56 AM EDT

Did you know that a butterfly simply flapping its wings can change the course of weather patterns? It's known as the "butterfly effect," and it can seriously disrupt the reliability of weather forecasts--sometimes for up to 10 days, with strong fluctuations in temperatures.

"This natural tendency to return to a basic state is an expression of the atmosphere's memory that is so strong that we are still feeling the effects of century-old fluctuations," McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy, said in a news release. "While human-made atmospheric warming imposes an overall increasing trend in temperatures, the natural fluctuations around this trend follow the same long memory pattern."

Researchers have noted how weather pattern fluctuations often result in temperature increases followed by decreases and vice versa, with pattern holds that can last for months, years and even decades. Fortunately, in Lovejoy's recent research, he directly harnesses the atmosphere's elephantine memory that examines weather forecasts that are more accurate than what standard computer models can currently provide, including those of the International Panel on Climate Change, can provide. With this new model, researchers are hopeful that it could improve notoriously poor seasonal forecast and even produce better long-term climate projections.

The new approach involves treating the weather as random with the help of historical data that forces the forecast to reflect a realistic climate. This helps overcome certain limitations of the standard approach, that allow improvements over standard methods. Furthermore, the new method also represents an improvement over short statistical forecasting techniques that exploit certain atmosphere's short-term memory.

Lovejoy's model also predicts that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the post 2000 rate, there is a 97.5 percent chance that the "pause" in global warming will be over before 2020.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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