Chaos in adiabatic Hamiltonian systems is a recent discovery and a pervasive phenomenon in physics. In this work, a geometric criterion is discussed based on the theory of action from classical mechanics to detect the existence of Smale horseshoe chaos in adiabatic systems. It is used to show that generic adiabatic planar Hamiltonian systems exhibit stochastic dynamics in large regions of phase space. To illustrate the method, results are obtained for three problems concerning relativistic particle dynamics, fluid mechanics, and passage through resonance, results which either could not be obtained with existing methods, or which were difficult and analytically impractical to obtain with them.

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This work was partly supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through grant DE-FG02-93ER25154.

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