Changes in Earth’s Landscape Are Mathematically Ordered, Not Random: Stanford Study

Tools used could also shine light on geometry of human circulatory system
July 14, 2014 Updated: July 14, 2014

Channels formed in the Earth by flowing water conform to a mathematical order, a pattern, discerned recently for the first time by Stanford University researchers. The underlying landscape was also shown to fit mathematical patterns.

This finding could challenge 50 years of research on landscape evolution, according to a July 11 Stanford news release

Scientists previously assumed a mathematically random formation of channels, but Dr. Eitan Shelef and Associate Professor George Hilley at Stanford used new mathematical tools to compare the natural networks with networks randomly generated by a computer. A simple metric clearly distinguishes between the two.

The analysis of branch networks could be extended to the human circulatory system, channels on Mars, the leaves of plants, and more. It will help geologists decipher what processes shaped the world, or worlds, we see today.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in May. 


Mathematics in Nature

Scientists have seen Fibonacci numbers woven through the tapestry of the natural world.

In the Fibonacci sequence, each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it. It starts, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and goes on infinitely. The golden ratio is the ratio between subsequent numbers in this sequence (5:8 or 8:13, for example). This ratio and these numbers have been detected in many patterns in nature, from snail shells to DNA molecules to the proportions of a human face.

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*Image of the channel between the parts of the Dead Sea via Shutterstock