Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Advanced mathematics in mother-child relationships... and in climate systems?

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: The hearts of pregnant women and their unborn children sometimes beat in synchrony. This interaction is significantly influenced by the mother’s breathing, researchers report in the current online edition of the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”. The mathematical approach to identify the synchronisation epochs could be applied to detect complications early in pregnancy. It could equally be used for the analysis of complex patterns in the climate system.

“The frequently reported special awareness of a mother for the well-being of her unborn child may be in part attributable to synchronization of their heartbeats,” says Jürgen Kurths, co-author of the study, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The research team headed by Kurths and Peter van Leeuwen from Dietrich Grönemeyer’s Chair of Radiology and Microtherapy at the University of Witten/Herdecke has developed an algorithm to identify the synchronization epochs in the data.

…The researchers detected this hidden interaction by applying an innovative technique of analysis, called “twin surrogates”. In this method, first independent copies of the underlying system are generated. Then, the surrogate data are used to identify the synchronisation epochs statistically.

…“The method can also be applied to investigate so called teleconnections in the climate system,” says Kurths. Teleconnections are mostly weak but far-reaching interactions in time and place. They exist for example between the El Niño phenomenon in the Eastern Pacific and the monsoon in India. The search for synchronisation of these phenomena can provide information about how they are interlinked.

“Synchronisation may occur anywhere where two complex systems are coupled,” says Kurths. It could be described as a “feeling” of one dynamical system for the existence of another. Synchronisation defines the way the two systems react to each other and to external influences. “Another potential application is research on the loss of biodiversity caused by human land use,” says Kurths. The method could provide clues as to why or at what point the fragmentation of an ecosystem by roads or plantations negatively affects its species richness.

Da Vinci drawing of a foetus in the womb

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