Does GPT understand geophysics?

Not sure what version of ChatGPT is being used on my browser at the present time, but I created a couple of GPT prompts (essentially queries) and compared and contrasted the results, and against expectations.

The first is to determine if ChatGPT could infer a wobble in a classical electromagnetic dynamics experiment. The setup is very simple and straightforward, illustrated by the schematic shown below:

As one can’t (as of yet) submit the schematic as a prompt to ChatGPT and illicit a response, we need to create a natural language prompt first:

Consider a levitating rotating magnetized sphere with north and south magnetic poles located at each endpoint of the axis of rotation. The rotation speed is 1 radian per second. An iron rod of the same length is placed in parallel with the axis of rotation, and wound with wire to form an electromagnet. At what frequency would the sphere wobble if the electromagnet was driven by a slight alternating current perturbation of 1 Herz, after the natural response subsided?

This is the response as of yesterday:

The motion of the levitating rotating magnetized sphere is governed by the interplay between the magnetic field of the sphere and the magnetic field of the iron rod, which is now an electromagnet due to the wire wound around it.

When the iron rod is magnetized by the alternating current, it generates a magnetic field that interacts with the magnetic field of the rotating sphere, causing a torque that can cause the sphere to wobble. The wobbling frequency can be determined by analyzing the equation of motion for the system.

Assuming the wobbling is small, we can linearize the equation of motion by taking the first-order Taylor series expansion. The resulting equation can be expressed as:

I * d^2θ/dt^2 + γ * dθ/dt + k * θ = M * B


I is the moment of inertia of the sphere
θ is the angular displacement of the sphere from its equilibrium position
γ is the damping coefficient
k is the spring constant
M is the magnetic moment of the electromagnet
B is the magnetic field of the rotating sphere

The solution to this equation of motion is a damped harmonic oscillator, which can be expressed as:

θ(t) = A * exp(-γt/(2I)) * cos(ωt + φ)


A is the amplitude of the wobbling motion
ω is the frequency of the wobbling motion
φ is the phase angle
The frequency of the wobbling motion can be found by substituting the solution into the equation of motion and solving for ω. After some algebraic manipulation, we get:

ω = sqrt((k/I) – (γ^2)/(4I^2)) – MB/(Isqrt((k/I) – (γ^2)/(4I^2)))

In this case, the sphere is rotating at a constant rate of 1 radian per second, so we can assume that the magnetic field of the sphere is also constant. Therefore, the only variable that changes due to the alternating current perturbation is the magnetic moment of the electromagnet, which oscillates at a frequency of 1 Hz.

Assuming that the natural response of the system has subsided, the wobbling motion will be dominated by the frequency of the alternating current perturbation. Therefore, the frequency of the wobbling motion will also be 1 Hz.

The response is to assert that the sphere will wobble at the same frequency as the applied forcing frequency, which is the intuitive response.

Next, change the prompt to create a similar behavior, but replacing the magnetic forces with gravitational forces.

Consider a rotating planet with massive extra weight at each pole. The rotation speed is 1 radian per Earth year. A small satellite moon orbits the planet with a significant declination. At what frequency would the planet wobble if the moon’s declination cycle was 250 days, after the natural response subsided?

This is a straightforward experiment to imagine, but difficult to perform in a lab. Submitting to ChatGPT today, this is the response:

The motion of the rotating planet with massive extra weight at each pole is governed by the conservation of angular momentum. The presence of the extra weight at the poles changes the distribution of mass of the planet, which in turn affects its moment of inertia.

Assuming that the extra weight is symmetric about the axis of rotation, we can approximate the planet as an oblate spheroid, which means that the moment of inertia of the planet is not constant but depends on the angle between the axis of rotation and the axis of symmetry of the spheroid. This angle is known as the obliquity of the planet and can change due to external perturbations such as the gravitational pull of a satellite moon.

The wobbling motion of the planet due to the gravitational pull of the satellite moon can be described by the following equation of motion:

I * d^2θ/dt^2 + γ * dθ/dt + k * θ = M * sin(ψ)


I is the moment of inertia of the planet
θ is the angular displacement of the planet from its equilibrium position
γ is the damping coefficient
k is the spring constant
M is the mass of the satellite moon
ψ is the angle between the axis of rotation of the planet and the direction of the gravitational force exerted by the satellite moon

The solution to this equation of motion is a damped harmonic oscillator, which can be expressed as:

θ(t) = A * exp(-γt/(2I)) * cos(ωt + φ)


A is the amplitude of the wobbling motion
ω is the frequency of the wobbling motion
φ is the phase angle

The frequency of the wobbling motion can be found by substituting the solution into the equation of motion and solving for ω. After some algebraic manipulation, we get:

ω = sqrt((k/I) – (γ^2)/(4I^2)) – Msin(ψ)/(Isqrt((k/I) – (γ^2)/(4I^2)))

In this case, the planet is rotating at a constant rate of 1 radian per Earth year, which corresponds to a period of approximately 2π × 365.25 days. The mass of the satellite moon and the gravitational force it exerts on the planet are also constant, so the only variable that changes due to the moon’s declination cycle is the angle ψ.

Assuming that the natural response of the system has subsided, the wobbling motion will be dominated by the frequency of the moon’s declination cycle, which is 1/250 Hz. Therefore, the frequency of the wobbling motion will also be 1/250 Hz.

Since the math of magnetic forcing and gravitational forcing follows the same inverse square law, the answers are similar as expected. ChatGPT gets the dimension wrong, using Hz instead of 1/(day), but other than that, this is also an intuitive result, as the forced response carries through after any natural response damps out.

Does GPT understand geophysics better than geophysicists?

I did this LLM AI experiment to find out whether ChatGPT would substantiate the model of the Chandler wobble that I had published in Mathematical Geoenergy (Wiley/AGU, 2018). The premise is that the nodal declination cycle of the Moon would force the Chandler wobble to a period of 433 days via a nonlinear interaction with the annual cycle. A detailed analysis of satellite peaks in the frequency spectrum strongly supports this model. Introducing the electromagnetic analog places it on an equal footing with a model that can be verified by a controlled lab experiment, see (A) vs (B) below.

Of course, if I had created a prompt to ChatGPT to simply inquire “What causes the Chandler wobble to cycle at 433 days?”, it would have essentially provided the Wikipedia answer, which is the hazy consensus culled from research since the wobble was discovered over 100 years ago.

Note that this “physics-free” answer provided by ChatGPT has nothing to do with the moon.

Atmospheric Science

I don’t immediately trust the research published by highly cited atmospheric scientists. By my count many of them seem more keen on presenting their personal views rather than advancing the field. Off the top of my head, Richard Lindzen, Murry Salby, Roy Spencer, Tim Dunkerton, Roger Pielke, Cliff Mass, Judith Curry are all highly cited but come across as political and/or religious zealots. One guy on the list, Dunkerton, is also a racist, who happened to make the Washington Post twice : “Physicist ousted from research post after sending offensive tweet to Hispanic meteorologist” and “Atmospheric scientist loses honor, membership over ethics violation“. Awful stuff and he hasn’t stopped spouting off on Twitter.

Granted that Dunkerton says dumb stuff on Twitter but his highly cited research is also off-base. That’s IMO only because recent papers by others in the field of atmospheric science do continue to cite his ideas as primary, if not authoritative. For example, from a recently published paper “The Gravity Wave Activity during Two Recent QBO Disruptions Revealed by U.S. High-Resolution Radiosonde Data”, citations 1 & 12 both refer to Dunkerton, and specifically to his belief that the QBO period is a property of the atmospheric medium itself

Straight-forward to debunk this Dunkerton theory since the length of the cycle directly above the QBO layer is semi-annual and thus not a property of the medium but of the semi-annual nodal forcing frequency. If we make the obvious connection to the other nodal forcing — that of the moon — then we find the QBO period is fixed to 28 months. I have been highlighting this connection to the authors of new QBO papers under community review, often with some subsequent feedback provided such as here: . Though not visible yet in the comments, I received some personal correspondence that showed that the authors under peer-review are taking the idea seriously and attempting to duplicate the calculations. They seem to be methodical in their approach, asking for clarification and further instructions where they couldn’t follow the formulation. They know about the GitHub software, so hopefully that will be of some help.

In contrast, Dunkerton also knows about my approach but responds in an inscrutable (if not condescending) way. Makes you wonder if scientists such as Dunkerton and Lindzen are bitter and taking out their frustrations via the media. Based on their doggedness, they may in fact be intentionally trying to impede progress in climate science by taking contrarian stances. In my experience, the top scientists in other research disciplines don’t act this way. YMMV

UPDATE 3/17/2023

More activity related to my review comment

As a review, this was after commenting earlier this year on a Copernicus open-science research article on atmospheric cycles and QBO (with proposed links to sunspots and ENSO) that was undergoing a review, making a suggestion to consider analyses I had presented and published 4 years ago and also prior to that.

Thought that was that and was happy to see that the authors indicated they would revise the manuscript and perhaps advance understanding. But then several days ago, the editor interceded and essentially demanded that the authors not cite my research work. Apparently, the authors were influenced by the editor’s instructions, as they immediately removed my cite and replaced it with a citation to a review article that the editor preferred. The discussion on the article was then closed with no way for me to rebut.

This was all after I spent several hours working with the primary author as they worked to replicate my analysis, sending emails back and forth several times. The editor claimed that my contribution was “a new idea that has not been published in a recognized journal and received peer review”. This is not the case as I said above: Google Scholar citations all ignored.

Also see this post I contributed to the Peak Oil Barrel blog :

Limits of Predictability?

A decade-old research article on modeling equatorial waves includes this introductory passage:

“Nonlinear aspects plays a major role in the understanding of fluid flows. The distinctive fact that in nonlinear problems cause and effect are not proportional opens up the possibility that a small variation in an input quantity causes a considerable change in the response of the system. Often this type of complication causes nonlinear problems to elude exact treatment. “

From my experience if it is relatively easy to generate a fit to data via a nonlinear model then it also may be easy to diverge from the fit with a small structural perturbation, or to come up with an alternative fit with a different set of parameters. This makes it difficult to establish an iron-clad cross-validation.

This doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. Applying the dLOD calibration approach to an applied forcing, we can model ENSO via the NINO34 climate index across the available data range (in YELLOW) in the figure below (parameters here)

The lower right box is a modulo-2π reduction of the tidal forcing as an input to the sinusoidal LTE modulation, using the decline rate (per month) as the divisor. Why this works so well per month in contrast to per year (where an annual cycle would make sense) is not clear. It is also fascinating in that this is a form of amplitude aliasing analogous to the frequency aliasing that also applies a modulo-2π folding reduction to the tidal periods less than the Nyquist monthly sampling criteria. There may be a time-amplitude duality or Lagrangian particle-relabeling in operation that has at its central core the trivial solutions of Navier-Stokes or Euler differential equations when all segments of forcing are flat or have a linear slope. Trivial in the sense that when a forcing is flat or has a 1st-order slope, the 2nd derivatives due to divergence in the differential equations vanish (quasi-static). This means that only the discontinuities, which occur concurrently with the annual ENSO predictability barrier, need to be treated carefully (the modulo-2π folding could be a topological Berry phase jump?). Yet, if these transitions are enhanced by metastable interface instabilities as during thermocline turn-over then the differential equation conditions could be transiently relaxed via a vanishing density difference. Much happens during a turn-over, but it doesn’t last long, perhaps indicating a geometric phase. MV Berry also discusses phase changes in the context of amphidromic tidal singularities here.

Suffice to say that the topological properties of reduced dimension volumes and at interfaces remain mysterious. The main takeaway is that a working NINO34-fitted ENSO model is produced, and if not here then somewhere else a machine-learning algorithm will discover it.

The key next step is to apply the same tidal forcing to an AMO model, taking care not to change the tidal factors enough to produce a highly sensitive nonlinear response in the LTE model. So we retain an excluded interval from training (in YELLOW below) and only adjust the LTE parameters for the region surrounding this zone during the fitting process (parameters here).

The cross-validation agreement is breathtakingly good in the excluded (out-of-band) training interval. There is zero cross-correlation between the NINO34 and AMO time-series to begin with so that this is likely revealing the true emergent characteristics of a tidally forced mechanism.

As usual all the introductory work is covered in Mathematical Geoenergy

A community peer-review contributed to a recent QBO article is here and PDF here. The same question applies to QBO as ENSO or AMO: is it possible to predict future behavior? Is the QBO model less sensitive to input since the nonlinear aspect is weaker?

Added several weeks later: This monograph PDF available “Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics: Physical and Numerical Aspects”. Ignoring higher-order time derivatives is key to solving LTE.

Note the cite to Billy Kessler

Gerstner waves

An exact solution for equatorially trapped waves
Adrian Constantin, JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 117, C05029, doi:10.1029/2012JC007879, 2012

Nonlinear aspects plays a major role in the understanding of fluid flows. The distinctive fact that in nonlinear problems cause and effect are not proportional opens up the possibility that a small variation in an input quantity causes a considerable change in the response of the system. Often this type of complication causes nonlinear problems to elude exact treatment. A good illustration of this feature is the fact that there is only one known explicit exact solution of the (nonlinear) governing equations for periodic two-dimensional traveling gravity water waves. This solution was first found in a homogeneous fluid by Gerstner

These are trochoidal waves

Even within the context of gravity waves explored in the references mentioned above, a vertical wall is not allowable. This drawback is of special relevance in a geophysical context since [cf. Fedorov and Brown, 2009] the Equator works like a natural boundary and equatorially trapped waves, eastward propagating and symmetric about the Equator, are known to exist. By the 1980s, the scientific community came to realize that these waves are one of the key factors in explaining the El Niño phenomenon (see also the discussion in Cushman-Roisin and Beckers [2011]).

modulo-2π and Berry phase


It turns out that the Darwin location of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) dipole is brilliantly easy to behaviorally model on it’s own.

The input forcing is calibrated to the differential length-of-day (LOD) with a correlation coefficient of 0.9997, and only a few terms are required to capture the standing-wave modes corresponding to the ENSO dipole.

So which curve below is the time-series data of atmospheric pressure at Darwin and which is the Laplace’s Tidal Equation (LTE) model calibrated from dLOD measurements?

  • (bottom, red) = ?
  • (top, blue) = ??

As a bonus, the couple of years outside of the training interval are extrapolated from the model. This shouldn’t be hard for climate scientists, …. or is it still too difficult?

If that isn’t enough to discriminate between the two, the power spectra of the LTE mapping to model and to data is shown below. This identifies a couple of the lower frequency modulations as strong peaks and a few weaker higher harmonic peaks that sharpen the model’s detail. This shows that the data’s behavior possesses a high amount of order not apparent in the time series.

Poll on Twitter =>

Why isn’t the Tahiti time-series included since that would provide additional signal discrimination via a differential measurement as one should be the complement of the other? It should accentuate the signal and remove noise (and any common-mode behavior) if the Darwin and Tahiti are perfect anti-nodes for all standing-wave modes. However, it appears that only the main ENSO standing-wave mode is balanced in all modes.

In that case, the Darwin set alone works well. Mastodon

Limnology 101

I doubt many climate scientists have taken a class in limnology, the study of freshwater lakes. I have as an elective science course in college. They likely have missed the insight of thinking about the thermocline and how in dimictic upper-latitude lakes the entire lake overturns twice a year as the imbalance of densities due to differential heating or cooling causes a buoyancy instability.

An interesting Nature paper “Seasonal overturn and stratification changes drive deep-water warming in one of Earth’s largest lakes” focusing on Lake Michigan

Continue reading


Cross-validation is essentially the ability to predict the characteristics of an unexplored region based on a model of an explored region. The explored region is often used as a training interval to test or validate model applicability on the unexplored interval. If some fraction of the expected characteristics appears in the unexplored region when the model is extrapolated to that interval, some degree of validation is granted to the model.

This is a powerful technique on its own as it is used frequently (and depended on) in machine learning models to eliminate poorly performing trials. But it gains even more importance when new data for validation will take years to collect. In particular, consider the arduous process of collecting fresh data for El Nino Southern Oscillation, which will take decades to generate sufficient statistical significance for validation.

So, what’s necessary in the short term is substantiation of a model’s potential validity. Nothing else will work as a substitute, as controlled experiments are not possible for domains as large as the Earth’s climate. Cross-validation remains the best bet.

Continue reading

What happened to simple models?

It’s been over 10 years since a thread on simplifying climate models was posted on the Azimuth Project forum =>

A highly esteemed climate scientist, Isaac Held, even participated and voiced his opinion on how feasible that would be. Eventually the forum decided to concentrate on the topic of modeling El Nino cycles, starting out with a burst of enthusiasm. The independent track I took on the forum was relatively idiosyncratic, yet I thought it held promise and eventually published the model in the monograph Mathematical Geoenergy (AGU/Wiley) in late 2018. The forum is nearly dead now, but there is recent thread on “Physicists predict Earth will become a chaotic world”. Have we learned nothing after 10 years?

My model assumes that El Nino/La Nina cycles are not chaotic or random, which is still probably considered blasphemous. In contrast to what’s in the monograph, the model has simplified, and a feasible solution can be mapped to data within minutes. The basic idea remains the same, explained in 3 parts.

(click images to expand)
  • Tidal Forcing. A long-period tidal forcing is generated, best done by fitting the strongest tidal factors (mapped by R.D.Ray) to the dLOD (delta Length-of-Day) data from the Paris Observatory IERS. With a multiple linear regression (MLR) algorithm, that takes less than a second and fits a sine-wave series model to the data with a correlation coefficient higher than 0.99.

Integrated Response Forcing
  • Annual Trigger Barrier. A semi-annual (+/-) excursion impulse train is constructed, which acts as a sample-and-hold input driver when multiplied by the tidal forcing above. A single parameter controls the slight decay of the sampled value, i.e. the hold or integrated response. Another parameter allows for a slight asymmetry in the + excursions, and the – excursions that occur 6 months later. This creates the erratic pseudo-square wave structure shown above. A monthly time-series is sufficient, with the chosen impulse month the most critical parameter.

  • Fluid Dynamics Modulation. The Laplace’s Tidal Equations are solved along the equator via an ansatz, which essentially creates a non-linear sin(F(t)) mapping corresponding to standing-wave modes spanning the Pacific Ocean basin. A slow-mode mode(s) is used to characterize the main ENSO dipole, and a faster mode(s) to characterize the tropical instability waves. For each mode, a wavenumber, amplitude, and phase is required to calculate the modulation.

The fitting process is to let all the parameters to vary slightly and so I use the equivalent of a gradient descent algorithm to guide the solution. The impulse month is seeded along with starting guesses for the two slowest wavenumbers. Another MLR algorithm is embedded to estimate the amplitude and phases required.

The multi-processing software is at

Recently it has taken mere minutes to arrive at a viable model fit to the ENSO data (the ENS ONI monthly data (1850 – Jul 2022)), starting with the initially calibrated dLOD factors. Each of the tidal factors is modified slightly but the correlation coefficient is still at 0.99 of the starting dLOD.

Even with that, the only way to make a convincing argument is to apply cross-validation during the fitting process. A training interval is used during the fitting and the model is extrapolated as a check once the training error is minimized. Even though the model is structurally sensitive, it does not show wild over-fitting errors. This is explainable as only a handful of degrees of freedom are available.

LTE modulation (low)
LTE modulation (high)

So this demonstrates that the behavior is stationary and definitely not chaotic, only obscured by the non-linear modulation applied to tidally forced waveform.

Notes on Sloshing

Informative article on development of cusped waveforms and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities

An experimental study of two-layer liquid sloshing under pitch excitations, Physics of Fluids · May 2022
DOI: 10.1063/5.0093716

Amazing number of harmonics

Related to Tropical Instability Waves along the equator

The most important mechanism for turbulence production in equatorial parallel shear flows is the inflectional instability, which operates at local maxima of the mean shear profile (Smyth and Carpenter, 2019). In the presence of stable stratification, inflectional instability is damped, but it may yet grow, provided that the minimum value of Ri is less than critical. In this case, the process is termed Kelvin–Helmholtz (KH) instability.