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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Chaos Theory in Hydrology

Authors
item Flerchinger, Gerald
item Moran, Mary
item Pierson, Frederick
item Fernandez, Glen - UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA

Submitted to: American Society of Agricultural Engineers Meetings Papers
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 13, 1994
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Many aspects of hydrology are complex and respond in an apparently random manner, eluding our efforts to accurately predict their outcome; attempts at long-range forecasting of the weather are just one example. Yet, it can be argued that there is order underlying all hydrologic processes since they are ultimately controlled by laws of nature, i.e., the laws of physics, chemistry and thermodynamics. To help make sense out of the apparent randomness and complexity, a number of researchers are turning toward chaos to help determine if there are a simple set of underlying laws or equations controlling the behavior of certain hydrologic processes. This paper gives an overview of the application of chaos theory in hydrology. Some simple concepts for understanding chaos are introduced; areas of hydrology where chaos theory has been applied are briefly reviewed; and some limitations and opportunities of chaos theory in hydrology are discussed.

Technical Abstract: This paper gives an overview of the application of chaos theory in hydrology. Techniques used to determine the existence and dimensionality of attractors are still in their infancy and are very much in the research frontier of chaotic dynamics. In particular, there are problems with dimension estimates obtained from insufficient data sets. It is difficult to detect whether an attractor has been reached or not, no less the dimensionality of the given attractor. Given the limitations of techniques to detect chaos, findings show that hydrologic systems may potentially be chaotic. To date no conclusive evidence exists for the presence of chaotic behavior in hydrologic processes based on field data. However, chaos has been found to be a property of several equations used to describe hydrologic systems. Such examples of chaotic behavior are only applicable to real hydrologic systems to the extent that the equations used are a true representation of the real system. Still, the possibility of a low-dimensional attractor in hydrology presents an opportunity for a new understanding of these processes and this research should not be discouraged. Some limitations and opportunities of chaos theory in hydrology are discussed.

Last Modified: 12/18/2014
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