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Physics Colloquium - "El Niño as a Topological Insulator: "A Surprising Connection Between Climate, and Quantum, Physics”

Event Type
University of Illinois Department of Physics
141 Loomis
Apr 1, 2020   4:00 pm  
Brad Marston, Brown University
Suzanne Hallihan
Originating Calendar
Physics - Colloquium

Symmetries and topology play central roles in our understanding of physics. Topology, for instance, explains the precise quantization of the Hall effect and the protection of surface states in topological insulators against scattering from disorder or bumps. However discrete symmetries and topology have up until now played little role in our thinking about the fluid dynamics of oceans and atmospheres. In this talk I show that, as a consequence of the rotation of the Earth that breaks time reversal symmetry, equatorially trapped Kelvin and Yanai waves emerge as topologically protected edge modes. Thus the oceans and atmosphere of Earth naturally share basic physics with topological insulators. As equatorially trapped Kelvin waves in the Pacific ocean are an important component of El Niño Southern Oscillation and other climate processes such as the MJO and QBO, these new results demonstrate that topology plays a surprising role in Earth’s climate system.  A possible role for topological waves in sustaining superrotation and their predicted appearance in magnetized plasmas will also be discussed.  


Professor Marston joined the Brown Physics Department in 1991. A graduate of Caltech, he received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1989. He did postdoctoral work at Cornell University and was a general member at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, a visiting professor at MIT and ENS Lyon, and a visiting associate at Caltech.  Prof. Marston is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

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