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Introduction      Why Beyond Rocket Science    Questions??

There are so many questions to ask about climate and weather; this can only be to start you thinking.
NOTE: This Page is Under Construction, and will be Updated.  We welcome your contributions and suggestions. 

We talk about "average" rainfall or "average" temperature, but what information does that give us? 

How much of a variation in the average is there from year to year?  What about from day to day? 

Weather is affected by several elements, many of which are cyclical.  We are familiar with the change in orientation with the sun that creates the seasons, but there are also ocean and atmospheric cycles.  These cycles overlap, just like waves in water, to add up, or to cancel each other out.  The result is cyclical patterns in the weather, but very complicated ones. 

The graph below is from weather stations near San Francisco, CA, listing annual rainfall measurements from 1860 to 1976.  The rainfall average was 20 inches/year, but some years there was as little as 8 inches up to 38 inches in other years. 

Rainfall Data from Bay Area 1860-1976

If you are a farmer, or a wine maker, or a ski resort owner, there is a big difference between 8 inches and 38 inches.  What do you think are the best ways to describe such a system?  Can you chart data from your part of the country?  -- what parts of weather could you look at? 

Is the weather changing?  When a system like weather fluctuates year to year, how do you tell if it is changing?  Is there anything that you can measure that would show an anomaly or a change in the pattern?  How many years would you have to use to be able to see a change?  If you did a running average, what is the best number of years to group together? 

Other Weather Questions:

-- What makes the weather and climate in a certain area?  Boston and Portugal are at the same latitude, which means that they are exposed to the same amount of sunshine -- do they have the same climate? 

 -- What is the Jet Stream?

 -- What is a Cloud?  What separates it from the air around it? 

 --  In Washington DC this February (2010), they had enough snow to shut down the city for several days.  Broadcasters said that part of this was the "ocean effect" similar to a "lake effect".  What is this?  How do these effects work? 

 -- Where does wind come from?  Can you identify all of the factors that go into making a windy day? 

-- Are there different kinds of snow?  What conditions make different kinds?  What conditions make hail?  Or sleet? 

What questions can you think of? 

Climate and Systems Questions:

In classical physics, we traditionally simplify so that we can solve the problems.  We ignore higher order terms: variable are taken as constants when in fact their value may increase at extremes.  This works in a lot of cases.  Think of relativity: time is dependent upon the speed with respect to the speed of light, but normal speeds are so small compared to the speed of light that we don't detect that correction. 

However, often when we have a system, even a simple one, we have to include the interactions between different parameters and variables.  And those interactions can lead to some surprising behavior.  Here is one example:

The Classical Physics Pendulum:

In physics you learn or will learn that a pendulum has a well-defined oscillation period or rate. 

The time for this oscillation is T (time)= 2p L/g, where L equals the length of the pendulum, and “g” equals gravity. 

Even in this case we are making some assumptions: there is no mass of the arm and no friction or air drag.  Actually, there is another assumption, that the maximum angle of the motion is << 1.  If the angle exceeds 23º, then we have to include the higher order (surprise ? non-linear) terms.  But that’s a different story.

The video shows a classical pendulum, with a regular, predictable pendulum-like motion.  But then it shows a pendulum hanging on a pendulum.  What would you expect to happen? 

YouTube video of double pendulum

How predictable is the motion of a second pendulum attached to a pendulum?  Can you find a way to record it for analysis?  Any other ways of figuring out what is going on?  What happens if you change the lengths of the pendulums?  What if they’re equal?  What if the top one is very long and the bottom one very short?  What if the top one is very short and the bottom one very long?  Do different things happen at certain ratios between the two lengths? 

Note that this pendulum has a range well beyond the 23 degree non-linear max.  How does this change things?


Back to the Cornstarch: 

How fast can the cornstarch rearrange itself?  Is the change from liquid-like behavior to solid-like behavior gradual?  Can you figure out how to measure how fast your finger (or probably a more precisely controlled object) moves through the cornstarch?  What difference does the amount of cornstarch make?

And Springs:

What happens with two systems with different frequencies combine, and then the frequencies change?  (e.g. ocean circulation and atmospheric circulation).  It surprising. . . Try it on an oscilloscope.

See Example 3 

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