How extensive is the butterfly effect? Speculation...

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by NHBL, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. NHBL Long Time Member, CMII

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    I've been thinking about the butterfly effect and its effects on natural phenomena. Specificly, which timelines should keep particular evens such as the Kobe Earthquake or Hurricane Katrina.

    Here's my best guess, other opinions (and reasons, if any) very wanted.

    Earthquakes, my best guess is that they are very long term stable. The Kobe Earthquake will happen on schedule, barring author's fiat or major earth-shattering events. Underground nuclear tests are the only man-made events that I can see being enough to change a volcano or earthquake. (Although with a sufficiently early POD, a few centuries of water being drawn from a particular aquifer might just be enough to change the timing?)

    Hurricanes and other storms--much more variable. Differing levels of Carbon Dioxide could cause changes over a local area. Dresden burning or the like.
    For that matter, I heard that the absence of planes over the USA--and the absence of cloud-spawning contrails--may have made a difference in the cloud cover. I'd say a year or tow, at most, to have the option of butterflying a particular storm. But, I'd be inclined to keep overall patterns the same for longer--this year was a heavy hurricane year, etc. How much longer? I don't know.
     
  2. Zyzzyva Was a Teenage Swine-Flu Vector

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    I'd say, barring crazy things like this, that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions go at the same times. Weather, I'd give a year, maybe less, before it goes off the rails; climate, obviously, is a lot harder to deflect (although I'd say "heavy hurricane year" falls under weather, not climate).
     
  3. Wolf Free Kilny!

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    I'd say the effects are up to the author myself. I like seeing OTL folks in ATL's acting in different ways. It makes ATL seem more ironic
     
  4. Chengar Qordath Princeps Qordathicus

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    As far as Earthquakes are concerned, I would say that minor degrees of butterfly effect might exist but the overall effect probably won't be changed. In other words, I could see butterflies making an earthquake happen an hour or two later than OTL, but there will still be an earthquake.
     
  5. Weaver Well-Known Member

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    Any sort of gross geophysical event involving plate tectonics on Earth or supernovae, solar flares etc cannot vary by as much as a second. Unless of course humanity starts engineering in a big way using asteroids or building Dyson spheres etc.

    Weather/climate is easily butterflied. Larger or smaller cities affect climate directly by varying the albedo of large areas of the Earth's surface, same same with crop types and distributions. The type and distribution of animals will also have a major effect, eg beavers on river systems, megafauna on forests, bird migrations on spreading of seeds.

    These are all factors directly and easily impacted upon by humanity, and any significant change in humanity's footprint will butterfly climate and hence weather.
     
  6. ZaphodBeeblebrox I Said that

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    Yeah ...

    Like there's Some Speculation, That Mount Vesuvius' 1944 Eruption Might have been Hastened by World War II ...

    But Even then, The Pressure had Probably been Building up for Years, And an Eruption was going to Happen Eventually, Anyway!

    :eek:
     
  7. Blue Max Game Designer

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    Privately, I tend to be conservative with the butterfly effect, with the supposition that much of the time choices do not fundamentally change outcomes, and that the world turns on a dime only on miraculous odds.

    Weather can be seeded; technology might outright uncover the functions that cause it. But things like plate tectonics, to say nothing of stellar supernovae, are probably beyond humanity's ability to adjust. Climate is out of our hands.

    While this does suggest that the future may have artificially heightened crop yields and mitigated disasters, it also means that weather events are going to be very, very hard to change. Nuclear Weapons would have an effect, and to a lesser degree, damming rivers and razing jungles would as well. That said, for the butterfly effect to fire, you'd need a big adjustment in these tendencies--the expanded Caspian Sea in another thread or Damming the Mediterranean Sea might do that.
     
  8. Trebuchet Well-Known Member

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    The above posters are incorrect; the 'butterfly effect' is extremely powerful. Less so for earthquakes and volcanoes, but not entirely... and I would guess volcanoes are less affected, as weather (which is very 'butterfliable') is going to be able to put more or less strain on tectonic plates (by raising and lowering water tables and thus mass in the vicinity of a fault).

    Weather is going to be insanely variable. To take the example of hurricanes, hurricanes are very dependent on the heat content of the ocean that they happen to be passing over, the presence or absence of various atmospheric phenomena, and the humidity and shear of the atmosphere they travel through. Random clouds, slightly different arrangements of winds and fronts a thousand miles away, possibly even the mass movement of large numbers of fish - all those could alter any of those, or multiple factors of those. I'd venture to say that the hurricane hunter planes that enter the storms probably change the storms' intensity and track a week later in a totally unpredictable fashion. Even unnoticeable changes in the storm's state will be compounded with incredible rapidity.
     
  9. Zyzzyva Was a Teenage Swine-Flu Vector

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    Thanks for bringing up the hard chaos theory view; I probably mostly agree, though.
     
  10. pacifichistorian Banned

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    There's also unexpected effects, like crops/farming & degree of urbanization. I've read (one of the threads here, just don't ask which one:mad:) one of the OTL causes of the Dust Bowl was increased ag production on marginal land. (No, it wasn't ATL...:p) Even without marginal land, it occurs to me changes in land use could do it. And cities are known to "create" weather, based on the heat they absorb & release, with (IIRC) more cloud on weekends as a result. You could, of course, butterfly that away by changing the albedo of asphalt, or have "greens" demand more parks & trees... And there's engineering projects: dredging in the Mississippi R has meant less delta formation off N.O., which means hurricanes can get nearer shore at higher power, which contributed to the damage Katrina did. Or you can see river diversions, which (if southward, out of the Arctic) might change the amount of fresh water deposited, which could conceivably move the Gulf Stream much farther south,:eek: or bring it to a halt entirely:eek::eek:...
     
  11. Astrodragon Coffee-seeking Dragon

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    While the waether will change, the climate wont - the climate is mainly driven by the big Pacific and Atlantic ocean occilations, which seem to be powered by the Sun. So nothing we change is likely to alter them.

    Things like cities tend to produce a local microclimate rather than anything more general - and the effects humanity puts into the system are rather puny compared to what nature does on its own.
     
  12. KEVP Well-Known Member

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    I tend to agree that the "big things" like Earthquakes and Volcanoes aren't going to be affected by the Butterfly effect (short of some sort of supertechnology). Another one is meteor impacts. It seems that, for example, the 1908 Tunguska impact will have to happen on schedule in just about any alternate TL. If there had been a city in the area, that city would have been destroyed.
     
  13. Nosimplehiway Well-Known Member

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    While I agree that from a scientific standpoint weather is a highly chaotic system, and in 100 different alternate realities you would be unlikely to get the same hurricane on the same day in the same place, I generally leave weather (and certainly tectonic activity) unchanged unless there is a truly compelling reason the original POD would alter it. The reason for this is more practical and literary than scientific. In such a chaotic system how can I, as an amateur, predict how many days earlier or later, or how much more or less intense a Hurricane Katrina or a Canadian Ice Storm of '98 would be due to, say the Germans winning WWII or JFK not being assassinated? No one on Earth has that sort of predictive ability.

    So, I simply assume that while the exact same hurricane may not have happened in an alternate line, a major hurricane was almost certain to hit the general vicinity of the AL-LA-MS Gulf coast at some point between 1990 and 2010. Similarly, it doesn't take ASBs to make a major ice storm in Canada, even if the British had decisiviely won the War of 1812.

    Once I grant the likelihood of an event, I figure I might as well use the actual event for literary reasons. For example, if in an ATL based on the South winning the ACW I want to examine how the CSA would deal with disaster relief given their loose states' rights structure, I don't want to have to take the time to describe the exact conditions of a major hurricane striking Jacksonville in mid-August of 2005, when there was a perfectly good analog to the event in OTL. I simply don't want to have to make weather charts and describe the event in detail. By assuming that Katrina hit the same in the ATL as in OTL the reader is able to follow along more easily and the story flows more gracefully.
     
  14. aktarian illegal in 20 states

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    what about nuclear explosion on or near fault lines? (the Indian nuke and Asian tsunami theory)
     
  15. Astrodragon Coffee-seeking Dragon

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    A pinprick compared to the energy involved in an earthquake.

    Now of course, there is always the theory about the Russian Psi research project and Mount St Helens...:D
     
  16. boredatwork Banned

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    Depends on how one defines POD.

    If POD's are limited to human action & attitudes, then butterflies could be reasonably limited to humanity, and the biosphere (includes climate, would not include tectonics except in extreme cases).

    If POD's can include non human, but non fantastic changes, even at a minor level, then I could see a POD that could end up butterflying something like Asteroid impacts or Ice Ages without ASBs having to get involved.

    Example - Tunguska

    A random cosmic particle takes a left instead of a right. Pings off of the impact object at some point in the depths of prehistory. This infinistesimal change in vectors, plus the cumulative effects of the different gravitational effects along the new course might change the impact site, the impact date, or (most likely) remove the impact all together.

    The same infinitesmial cosmic particle which created the miniscule alteration to the object's vector could continue on to earth and by striking the atmosphere, set of a series of changes with end up removing the little Ice Age, or giving the Spanish armada fair sailing, or delaying/preventing Ben Franklin's experiment with lightning. If the particle makes it through the atmosphere, it might continue down a flip a strand of RNA in one of the proto-mammals wandering around. 6 million odd years later, George washington is fertile and has kids, or Rasputin dies as a child.

    Want something more dramatic? Atmospheric changes = no banyan tree for Buddha, or Mohammed dies in a sandstorm before writing the Ko'ran, or different distribution of atmospheric dust leads to Saul of Tarsus falling slightly differently and dying, rather than becoming Paul the apostle. Less dramatic - a chromosone is flipped and Brit Spears is the new boy-band lead singer of the day.

    Still, these are all about stories, since the point of these stories is normally to explore "what would've happened if X instead of Y" not "cool, look how twilight-zony I can be", it makes sense to clip the butterflies wings, at least a little.
     
  17. Nosimplehiway Well-Known Member

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    A POD can be intentional human activity (WI George III appointed George Washington as Governor General of the Bahamas in 1768?), social/economic trends (WI the United Empire Loyalists had been granted lands in Ireland instead of moving to Canada?), natural phenomena (WI the Tunguska event hit Montreal in 1769?), or a combination thereof (WI widescale grazing had not become common in Britain and the countryside was therefore more heavily forested at the time of the English Civil War?).

    It can be fun to advance these events to see their effects, but a Gov. Gen. Washington will not cause Montreal, through any conceivable causality, to be destroyed in a Tunguska event. It just won't.

    For me the goal of AH is isolating an event's effects, and thereby considering later events' causes. If a POD does not specifically and directly cause a subsequent event to change, latter events should not change in the ATL. If it were to change haphazardly due to butterflies, then what can we possibly learn from the alt history?

    For example, in a "WI the Portugues colonized Mexico" timeline, there is no reason whatsoever to think that an ice storm would therefore not hit Canada in 1998. Is it possible that the ice storm would fizzle because of some cartoon butterflies saying abrogado instead of gracias? Maybe, though really I don't think so, but if I use butterflies to explain away all causality, then I am not writing alternate history, I am writing modern fantasy and simply using the monicker of alternate history as licence to create an alternate fantasy world out of whole cloth.

    My personal opinion: overuse of butterflies is for writers too lazy to follow events through a logical chain of causality to their conclusions. (eg: WI the Nazis won the war and therefore I have a pet robot doing my laundry here in my hometown of Goebelsville, Deseret? That would be sooo KEWL!)
     
  18. aktarian illegal in 20 states

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    perhaps but it could cause earthquake to come off sooner or be weaker
     
  19. Nosimplehiway Well-Known Member

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    How could it? In real life, not a comic book, I mean.
     
  20. ninebucks Banned

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    I'm of the opinion that earthquakes can be triggered earlier if there is more pressure exerted on the land, from, for example, a city.

    Even a small city weighs several million tonnes, whether or not such a weight is placed on or near a fault line is bound to effect seismic activity quite seriously.