New research suggests that the atmosphere can be modeled with fractal patterns and may not be as, er, complex as we thought. The benefit of the new knowledge? Perhaps more accurate forecasts and better climate models. From New Scientist:
The results point to a new view of the atmosphere as a vast collection of cascade-like processes, with large structures the size of continents breaking down to feed ever-smaller ones, right down to zephyrs of air no bigger than a fly.
The implications promise to transform the way we predict everything from tomorrow's local weather to the changing climate of the entire planet. "We may never be able to view the atmosphere and climate in the same way again," says team member Shaun Lovejoy of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. "Rather than seeing them as so complex that only equally complex numerical models can make sense of them, we're seeing a kind of scale-by-scale simplicity."