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May 25, 2006

Simple or not simple at all?

When everybody tells you about the imminent danger of Global Warming it does not really come as a surprise that this year again May started on a rather high temperature level. We've already experienced temperatures around 25 Centigrades and more this year. In Germany we usually have a spell of cold weather between the May 12 and May 15. The nights can even be frosty. These days are called "Die Eisheiligen" and are named "Pankratius", "Sevatius", "Bonifatius", and "Sophie". Well, this year those days and nights were quite warm - ah, Global Warming, remember? Apparently, it is not as simple as that for we've got the cold days now. One of my colleagues even had to scrape a thin layer of ice from his windscreen this morning.

Anyway, Global Warming is quite an interesting phenomenon. It is supposed to melt the ice in the polar regions, which increases the amount of water in the oceans which in turn decreases the speed of the gulf stream. That means, some areas on our planet will experience lower temperatures in the future. England? Scotland? Probably. Perhaps the ice will just be shifting from the poles towards the equator?

The really frustrating bit about it is that there's no way to actually predicts what is going to happen because our environment is such a complex system. But then we are not even any good at predicting simple things. Take "Langton's Ant" for example, a most intriguing two-dimensional system invented by Chris Langton with a very simple set of rules. A little ant is wandering around on an infinite planar grid. The squares on the grid are either white or black. The square the ant steps on turns its colour from white to black or from black to white accordingly. If it lands on a white square it will take a right turn, if it land on a black square it will turn left.

You, the observer, just sit back and watch the ant scuttle over the grid. After the ant has completed a few thousand steps you suddenly see a sort of simple symmetric pattern emerge - it looks very much like a four-leaf clover. That suddenly disappears and the pattern becomes chaotic. After that comes the biggest surprise: the ant is obviously determined to find a way out and starts repeating a 104 step cycle whereby she builds a "highway" straight out of the mess. And the ant keeps building the highway for ever, never goes back to a chaotic stage again.

I must admit that I was immediately intrigued by the little ant when I stumbled across it a couple of years ago. Although the rules are so very simple there is no way to predict what will happen. One just has to watch what the ant will do. The ant reminds you that even apparently simple things might not be that simple and straightforward after all. I wonder what surprises Global Warming warming will have in store for us. It is probably not a straight case of warming up everything on earth at all.

If you would like to see The Ant for yourself - try a google on "Langton's Ant". There are lots of little computer programmes available on the net for you to download and enjoy.

Posted by Mausi at May 25, 2006 08:39 PM


Global warming is an inevitable process. The Earth goes through a cyclical process in which it cools (hence the ice age) then warms up again over and over again. It’s similar to that of the polarization and reverse polarization of the Earth’s core except that magnetic field does so more rapidly.

I think all the finger point should stop whether it’s being directed towards big oil or world governments. If people are pointlessly worried, engineers at car manufacturing companies are already working on methods in reduction emissions period from automobiles. We may be accelerating it but we're not the cause.

There are millions of different factors contributing to why CO2 levels are so high, it's not just emission. For example, rapid urbanization causes deforestation and that leads to less plants absorbing CO2 gas.

Global warming will eventually cause extremely cold winters in most of Europe.

Posted by: wom at May 25, 2006 01:25 PM

Another thing people forget is that the 1700s were almost another Ice Age. Ponds froze solid almost to the bottom in the New England states of the US, to the point where one fellow actually loaded ice onto ships and sailed them to sell it in India and points surrounding, and made money.

In the 21st century, we are really only returning to averages or just above in most areas.

Posted by: Kentucky Packrat at May 25, 2006 04:00 PM