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History of Ideas Blog

Edward Lorenz. *The nature and theory of the general circulation of the atmosphere.* 1967 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] World Meteorological Organization, No. 218, TP 115, 161 pp. **$500.00**

This is Lorenz's (1917-2008) masterpiece on the dynamics of the atmosphere, which is perhaps the greatest work on the weather since it was first scientifically treated by George Hadley in the 1730's. What Lorenz presents here is his theoretical treatment of the non-linear action of the circulation of the atmosphere, an accidental discovery he made* in 1963 ("Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences" see below) which resulted in the establishment of the foundations of modern chaos theory.

This is a decent, working copy of his book, which seems to be quite scarce--it doesn't show up very often in collections in universities, and is basically absent from auction records and bookseller catalogs. It is also only the second copy that I've had--both have been ex-library copies. This copy is generally crisp and bright, and has only a few scant library marks. This has an interesting library association, coming as it does from the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) library in Arlington. Given the early work by Lorenz for the US Army Air Force and his subsequent work that was of high interest to the military, the association is appropriate.

*From a wiki article, a nice description of the accidental nature of Lorenz's discovery:

"An early pioneer of the theory was Edward Lorenz whose interest in chaos came about accidentally through his work on weather prediction in 1961.[14] Lorenz was using a simple digital computer, a Royal McBee LGP-30, to run his weather simulation. He wanted to see a sequence of data again and to save time he started the simulation in the middle of its course. He was able to do this by entering a printout of the data corresponding to conditions in the middle of his simulation which he had calculated last time.

"To his surprise the weather that the machine began to predict was completely different from the weather calculated before. Lorenz tracked this down to the computer printout. The computer worked with 6-digit precision, but the printout rounded variables off to a 3-digit number, so a value like 0.506127 was printed as 0.506. This difference is tiny and the consensus at the time would have been that it should have had practically no effect. However Lorenz had discovered that small changes in initial conditions produced large changes in the long-term outcome.[15] Lorenz's discovery, which gave its name to Lorenz attractors, proved that meteorology could not reasonably predict weather beyond a weekly period (at most)."

Significant Works by Lorenz (a full listing from MIT is found here.)

1955 Available potential energy and the maintenance of the general circulation. Tellus. Vol.7

1963 Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of Atmospheric Sciences. Vol.20 : 130—141 link [10].

1967 The nature and theory of the general circulation of atmosphere. World Meteorological Organization. No.218

1969 Three approaches to atmospheric predictability. American Meteorological Society. Vol.50

1976 Nondeterministic theories of climate change. Quaternary Research. Vol.6

1990 Can chaos and intransitivity lead to interannual variability? Tellus. Vol.42A

2005 Designing Chaotic Models. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences: Vol. 62, No. 5, pp. 1574–1587.

Video of Lorenz Speaking

Predecessors to Lorenz in Chaos Theory and Dynamical Systems

Jules Henri Poincaré (1890) "Sur le problème des trois corps et les équations de la dynamique. Divergence des séries de M. Lindstedt," Acta Mathematica, vol. 13, pages 1–270.

Hadamard, Jacques (1898). "Les surfaces à courbures opposées et leurs lignes géodesiques". Journal de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées 4: pp. 27–73.

George D. Birkhoff, Dynamical Systems, vol. 9 of the American Mathematical Society Colloquium Publications (Providence, Rhode Island: American Mathematical Society, 1927)

Kolmogorov, A. N. (1941a). “Local structure of turbulence in an incompressible fluid for very large Reynolds numbers,” Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR, vol. 30, no. 4, pages 301–305. Reprinted in: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Series A), vol. 434, pages 9–13 (1991).

Significant Papers by Loenrz in pdf

The nature and theory of the general circulation of the atmosphere. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] World Meteorological Organization, No. 218, TP 115, 161 pp.

and

Edward N. Lorenz (1963). "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 20: 130–141.http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0469/20/2/pdf/i1520-0469-20-2-130.pdf.

Edward N. Lorenz (1969). "Atmospheric predictability as revealed by naturally occurring analogues". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 26: 636–646. doi:10.1175/1520-0469(1969)26<636:APARBN>2.0.CO;2. http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0469/26/4/pdf/i1520-0469-26-4-636.pdf.

Edward N. Lorenz (1969). "Three approaches to atmospheric predictability". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 50: 345–349. http://eapsweb.mit.edu/research/Lorenz/Three_approaches_1969.pdf.

Notices on Lorenz

Tim Palmer (2008). "Edward Norton Lorenz". Physics Today 61 (9): 81–82. doi:10.1063/1.2982132.

"Lorenz Receives 1991 Kyoto Prize". MIT News Office. 1991. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/tt/1991/24996/24998.html.

Awards

1969 Carl Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, American Meteorological Society.

1973 Symons Memorial Gold Medal, Royal Meteorological Society.

1975 Fellow, National Academy of Sciences (U.S.A.).

1981 Member, Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

1983 Crafoord Prize, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

1984 Honorary Member, Royal Meteorological Society.

1991 Kyoto Prize for ‘… his boldest scientific achievement in discovering "deterministic chaos" .’.