Nonlinear Dynamics in the Geosciences



In the past, “nonlinearity” has been used as the catchall phrase to describe processes in the geosciences that we could not understand, and is often used in this manner in current peer-reviewed literature and conference presentations. My graduate students often complain that their professors (me included) use nonlinearity to avoid answering difficult questions.

However, during the course of the past 20 years there have been significant breakthroughs in our understanding of nonlinear dynamics that have been enabled by advances in high-speed computing but that reach far beyond simply solving nonlinear equations numerically. Understanding how regime transitions are possible without a change in the governing law is perhaps one of the best examples of how nonlinear dynamics has improved our understanding of geophysical phenomena.