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Researchers develop a method for predicting unprecedented events -- ScienceDaily

Bray settled on three eclectic datasets: an eight-year study of plankton from the Baltic Sea with species levels measured twice weekly; net carbon measurements from a deciduous broadleaf forest at Harvard University, gathered every 30 minutes since 1991; and measurements of barnacles, algae and mussels on the coast of New Zealand, taken monthly for over 20 years. The researchers then analyzed these three datasets using theory about avalanches -- physical fluctuations that, like black swan events, exhibit short-term, sudden, extreme behavior. At its core, this theory attempts to explain the physics of systems like avalanches, earthquakes, fire embers, or even crumpling candy wrappers, which all respond to external forces with discrete events of various magnitudes or sizes -- a phenomenon scientists call "crackling noise." Built on the analysis, the researchers developed a method for predicting black swan events, one that is designed to be flexible across species and timespans, and able to work with data that are far less detailed and more complex than those used to develop it. "Existing methods rely on what we have seen to predict what might happen in the future, and that's why they tend to miss black swan events," said Wang. "But Sam's method is different in that it assumes we are only seeing part of the world. It extrapolates a little about what we're missing, and it turns out that helps tremendously in terms of prediction."