Evidence of subharmonic period-doubling cascades has recently been recognized in seismograms of volcanic tremor from several volcanoes. This phenomenon occurs only in nonlinear systems, and is the commonest route by which such systems change from periodic to chaotic behavior. It is predicted to occur in a model of volcanic tremor excitation by flow-induced vibration, and it might well also occur in other volcano-seismic source process. If the possibility of period doubling is not taken into account in interpreting spectra of tremor and long-period earthquakes, then low-frequency "sub-harmonic" oscillations may be mis-identified as normal modes of a linear acoustic resonator, leading to errors of an order of magnitude or more in inferred magma-body dimensions. This example illustrates the importance of nonlinear phenomena in attempts to understand volcano-seismic phenomena physically. Linear systems are fundamentally incapable of causing earthquakes or exciting tremor, so nonlinearity is essential to any theory of volcano-seismic phenomena. Nonlinear processes are in many respects qualitatively different from linear ones. A few of their characteristics that might be relevant in volcanoes include the possibility: (1) that damping might increase, rather than decrease, oscillation frequencies; and (2) that these frequencies might be functions of the amplitude of oscillation, so that temporal variations in spectral peak frequencies might not be manifestations of changes of conditions within the magmatic system.
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Period doubling and other nonlinear phenomena in volcanic earthquakes and tremor