Self-Organised Criticality

The concept of self-organized criticality was introduced to explain the behaviour of the sandpile model. In this model, particles are randomly dropped onto a square grid of boxes. When a box accumulates four particles they are redistributed to the four adjacent boxes or lost off the edge of the grid. Redistributions can lead to further instabilities with the possibility of more particles being lost from the grid, contributing to the size of each ‘avalanche’. These model ‘avalanches’ satisfied a power-law frequency–area distribution with a slope near unity. Other cellular-automata models, including the slider-block and forest-fire models, are also said to exhibit self-organized critical behaviour. It has been argued that earthquakes, landslides, forest fires, and species extinctions are examples of self-organized criticality in nature. In addition, wars and stock market crashes have been associated with this behaviour. The forest-fire model is particularly interesting in terms of its relation to the critical-point behaviour of the sitepercolation model.

Author: Donald L Turcotte

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