It's an impossible question to answer, right? And even if it is possible to answer, you'd probably need a mathematical formula that you either don’t know or that is far too complicated.
While it might be impractical to count the exact number of leaves that fall in Dublin each year, a physicist can approach a problem like this and break it down into manageable, logical sections and come up with an answer.
We call this sort of question a Fermi problem.
We call the type of solution to the problem we’re looking at here the Fermi method, because of Fermi's ability to come up with quick, accurate answers to mathematical questions that would confound other people. He once used the Fermi method to estimate the yield of an atomic bomb tested in 1945 at the White Sands Proving Range, New Mexico. He dropped paper from his hands at the edge of the blast area, and made his calculations based on how far the paper traveled during the explosion.
Fermi is often called the the father of the atomic bomb, but would he later argue against the development and advancement of nuclear weapons.
We've broken the problem down into logical steps for you already, so just fill in the values that you think are right.
We often think of science as definitive or absolute but scientists often rely on assumption and estimation.
It is their ability to quantify uncertainty that matters. If you wish to increase the accuracy of your answer, then you can be more exact in your estimation. Sometimes the need for the accuracy of the final figure depends on how you intend to use it. Estimating the size of a crowd for a newspaper report might be important but estimating the forces that a commercial jetliner might experience in flight could be more so.
So don't worry about not knowing the correct response. Make your best estimate and lets figure out how many leaves fall in Dublin every autumn.
In this example we've provided the steps – thinking of Dublin as a semi-circle, estimating the amount of land covered in trees, that sort of thing – but this is just our solution. There could be other approaches, and some may be even better than the one that we’ve proposed.
An average tree has a footprint of XXXm2.
An average tree has a volume of XXXm3.
There are XXX leaves on an average tree.
There are XXX deciduous trees in Dublin.
Which means the answer to your Fermi problem is:
leaves fall in autumn in Dublin!