David Nabhan
Tectonic Shifts

‘Tectonic Shifts’ Adds Champagne to Million Dollar Math Prize

While only some two thousandths of the world’s population is Jewish more than 20 percent of all Nobel Prize winners have been Jews. So this column is as good a public venue as any to remind that the Clay Mathematics Institute is offering an almost equally prestigious prize, along with a $1 million award, for anyone offering a solution to the Navier-Stokes equations. The author would like very much to see them solved as well, and will present any eventual awardee with the means to celebrate such an accomplishment properly: a magnum of the finest thousand dollar per bottle champagne.

The Navier-Stokes equations are what science employs to make heads or tails of the chaos that is turbulence in air or water. They’ve been solved in two ethereal, yet infinitely thin, dimensions; their solution in three-dimensions, in our real world, is one of the Millennial Prize’s “holy grail” listings. Holding of breath may be ill-advised though. Even the co-discoverer of quantum mechanics however, Werner Heisenberg, hardly imagined himself up to it. He reckoned the task difficult in the extreme, something that “might almost stump God himself.”

What makes these equations of such interest, meriting the cash and champagne, is their indispensability in crafting models that make putative sense of the chaos of weather and climate. These formulae, however, if intractable after all, may reflect the very face of the “Butterfly Effect”  that mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz stamped into the public consciousness back in the 1960s. It’s all forgotten at present with the worldwide “climate change” hysteria casting aside the plausibility that random flaps of  butterflies’ wings in Brazil last year can result in tornados in Texas next year. But, nothing has changed. The inability to make long-term predictions may actually suffer from an insurmountable deficit indelibly stamped into the science of climate prediction. That’s certainly the case now.

Dr. Paul Williams, Royal Society fellow, esteemed professor of atmospheric science, a mainstream “climate change” proponent himself, nonetheless declares that “the secrets of the climate system  are locked away in the Navier-Stokes equations, but they’re too complex to be solved directly.” Yet with no mathematical bearing on which to stand, one wonders how so many ear-splitting declarations can be shouted concerning how our planetary climate will definitely be hotter, colder, wetter, or drier. It’s not these obdurate equations giving out unambiguous answers, the kind to be published as supposed the “settled science” of such a dauntingly complex question as Earth’s climate in the far future.

Instead, what stands for supposed accurate and clear-cut forecasting for climate conditions a century or so from now are researchers plugging in millions of lines of code into computers and attempting end-runs around equations they know they can’t solve. In the simplest terms, even the slightest infinitesimal input variation in these computer what-if scenarios at the start will result in the most lopsided results at end.

And speaking of things beyond our control, there is no greater engine of climate more guaranteed to be absolutely impossible to predict, with whatever set of equations, than Sol. Ours is a “mildly variable star,” however, and it can and does throw far more damaging tantrums our way. It did between 1300 and 1850, the “Little Ice Age”—which sent tens of millions to their deaths owing to starvation, cold and disease. There have been innumerable deviations in the Sun’s output over the eons; there are many, many more to come. That one slippery input data alone—among uncounted and unknown variables—is enough to cause any grave doubts about any sure-fire supposed prediction of climate in 2100 AD.

Israel is one of the most advanced, best educated Western democracies, with certainly a high enough percentage of population not fully convinced that end-of-times climate change is driving the world toward an inevitable apocalypse. Even in Israel, however, Jewish mathematical genius may not be equal to solving the Navier-Stokes equations. In the meanwhile, those with sufficient common sense albeit lacking the precise calculus to balance such knotty math expressions, should realize it’s far too early to close down factories, obliterate entire industries, and turn civilization upside-down before at least possessing some answers. It’s true solutions that are required, and absolutely irrefutably correct ones at that before issuing fiats sending the world back to the Stone Age.

And that is at least worth anteing up the top-drawer champagne in hopes of toasting some real answers.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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