Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coastline Paradox

"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The coastline paradox is the counterintuitive observation that the coastline of a landmass does not have a well-defined length. This results from the fractal-like properties of coastlines.

"The measured length of a coastline depends on the scale of measurement: the smaller the increment of measurement, the longer the measured length becomes. Since a landmass has features at all scales, from hundreds of kilometers in size to tiny fractions of a millimeter and smaller, there is no obvious limit to the size of the smallest feature that should not be measured around, and hence no single well-defined perimeter to the landmass.

"Over a wide range of measurement scales, down to the atomic, coastlines show a degree of self-similarity, and as the measurement scale is made smaller and smaller, the measured length continues to increase, tending towards infinity.

"An example of the coastline paradox. If the coastline of Great Britain is measured using fractal units 100 km long, then the length of the coastline is approximately 2800 km. With 50 km units, the total length is approximately 3400 km (600 km longer)."

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