Paper Published: Does Information Theory Provide a New Paradigm for Earth Science? Causality, Interaction, and Feedback

News / Friday, March 6th, 2020

Goodwell, A. E., Jiang, P., Ruddell, B. L., & Kumar, P. (2020). Debates—Does information theory provide a new paradigm for Earth science? Causality, interaction, and feedback. Water Resources Research, 56, e2019WR024940.


The concept of causal interactions between components is an integral part of hydrology and Earth system sciences. Modelers, decision makers, scientists, and other water resources stakeholders all utilize some notion of cause‐and‐effect to understand processes, make decisions, and infer how systems react to change. However, there are different perspectives on the meaning of causality in complex systems and, further, different frameworks and methodologies with which to detect causal interactions. We propose here that information theory (IT) provides a compelling framework for the detection of causality and discuss approaches for several levels of analyses that capture interactions that range from pairwise to multivariate in nature. We illustrate these types of analyses with an example based on weather station time series variables, in which variables may interact pairwise or jointly and on short to long time scales. In general, many unsolved or even unanticipated questions in the hydrologic sciences could benefit from this perspective.

Come hither, let us lead the way to take a causal view today. Cause and effect are hard to assess, thus we take the risk of making a mess, but present our thoughts on Information Theory, since variance and correlation have grown weary. Couplings, synergy, and the causal path can all be determined with a bit of math. But do they reflect what nature creates? This may be the real debate.