WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
If you wanted to stop a hurricane trying to stop it when it’s full size would be “almost impossible,” however, if we could catch and neutralise them before they had a chance to form, well, it could be bye bye hurricanes…
Today, thanks to an army of scientists and researchers who love to push the boundaries we have “plans” that will allow us to re-freeze the Arctic, stop Tsunami’s dead in their tracks and even prevent the next super volcano eruption that could thrust the Earth into the next ice age. But despite these arguably awesome, and surprisingly feasible, plans stopping Hurricanes, like the ones that recently flattened most of the Caribbean, Florida and Texas, up until now, hasn’t been on our radar, but that could all soon be about to change.
Bear with me and put on your “Impossible Possible” hat, remembering that today we are indeed making more of the impossible, such as telepathy, tractor beams and solving world hunger and poverty, possible, and let’s dive into the news about the first step that one day might help us calm these brutal beasties.
We’re all familiar with the fact that today we have fairly decent hurricane warning systems in place all around the world that can warn people a hurricane’s on its way and give them a chance to evacuate before it’s too late, and while these systems still can’t predict the storm’s path with 100 percent accuracy they’re still darned good and they undoubtedly save lives.
Last week a team at MIT took hurricane prediction one step further though and announced they’d built a system that could predict hurricanes before they’ve even formed, and they published their findings in Science Advances.
Using a series of engineering formulas, the team developed an algorithm that would help them compute and visualise the precursors of extreme events in complicated systems that have a lot of turbulence.
“Currently there is no method to explain when these extreme events occur,” said Themistoklis Sapsis, associate professor of mechanical and ocean engineering at MIT and co-author on the new paper, “we have applied this framework to turbulent fluid flows, which are the Holy Grail of extreme events.”
Previously, Sapsis had published work on how rare wave events can occur from otherwise calm looking seas, and his new research is based on similar principles.
“If we can predict the occurrence of these extreme events, then hopefully we can apply some control strategies to avoid them,” he said.
The turbulent fluid flows he mentioned refer to the fluids that move in an irregular, rather than linear, way, and hurricanes are a great example. Other examples include any other fluid that moves chaotically, like extreme rainfall, air stresses around an airplane wing, and noise inside a gas turbine.
Today the best tools scientists have for predicting when turbulent fluid flows will form are out dated equations that are meant to predict the behaviour of a complex system over time, but they simply don’t have enough data about extreme weather events to plug into them because extreme weather events happen so rarely there’s just not enough data about them. On the one hand this is a good thing but on the other it’s also a major obstacle if you’re trying to create a predictive technology.
A Kolmogorov Flow Simulation
To build his new algorithm Sapsis and his team drew on models that relate to a type of turbulence called the Kolmogorov Flow, and combined it with existing weather data to pinpoint the conditions that qualified as “precursors” to turbulent flow.
They then tested the models accuracy by running simulations of turbulent flows, looking for the precursors the algorithm spat out. The precursors were accurate predictors of extreme events between 75 and 99 percent of the time, which, I think you’ll agree, isn’t bad…
The upside to developing an algorithm that incorporates both predictive equations and real, representative data is that it separates the extreme cases from the exotic ones.
“We are looking at the equations for possible states that have very high growth rates and become extreme events, but they are also consistent with data, telling us whether this state has any likelihood of occurring, or if it’s something so exotic that, yes, it will lead to an extreme event, but the probability of it occurring is basically zero,” said Sapsis.
While the teams algorithm, needless to say, at the moment isn’t perfect, they hope it will help predict the kind of turbulence that precedes extreme events, such as hurricanes, and then, here’s the magic… if you can predict the build up of turbulence that could lead to an extreme event then, in the future, it’s also possible that you’ll be able to neutralise it, for example with a contraindicated wave or other “energy” source, and needless to say, no turbulence, no hurricane. Or so goes the theory, okay, my theory for now but hey we’re thinking impossible possible here. Never say never.
However, climatologists meanwhile will always tell us that hurricanes and other extreme events are how nature helps bring systems that are “out of balance” back into balance, so if we could neutralise hurricanes before they even started then surely the next question becomes what’s the impact, and is there one? But for now I’m just thinking two, not three steps ahead. I’m lazy like that.
That said though let’s hope we don’t have to re-write the hurricane scale and it doesn’t simply create a Category Six hurricane… but in the meantime, rather than having to try to use technology, which would have to be done on a vast scale, to neutralise and tame a Category Five hurricane we could just apply some smaller, localised technologies to neutralise the turbulence that gives rise to it.
When someone says impossible, think possible, the hat suits you by the way… now, back to those E-Mails.