Emily Shuckburgh Talks Mathematics of Climate Change Prior to JMM AMS-MAA Invited Address
Emily Shuckburgh is a climate scientist based at the British Antarctic Survey. There she leads the Open Oceans research group, which is focused on understanding the role of the polar oceans in the global climate system. Her personal research concerns investigating the dynamics of the atmosphere, oceans and climate using theoretical approaches, observational studies and numerical modelling.
Shuckburgh will be presenting the AMS-MAA Invited Address “Using Mathematics to Better Understand the Earth's Climate” on Wednesday, January 9, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., at the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego, California. She recently answered some questions from MAA staff about her upcoming talk.
Can you describe for us the work you do with the Open Oceans research group at the British Antarctic Survey?
The Open Oceans group at the British Antarctic Survey is focused on understanding the role of the polar oceans in the global climate system. The world's oceans are connected via a vast global circulation which is largely driven by physical processes occurring in the polar oceans and much of our research is focused on better understanding those processes. The circulation transports heat and nutrients around the global and it also serves as the conduit by which carbon dioxide is taken from the atmosphere and stored in the deep ocean. Warm currents can melt the underside of Antarctic ice sheets causing them to destabilize leading to sea level rise, melting sea ice introduces freshwater into the Arctic Ocean which can change the density of the water and alter the circulation, and changes to the ocean properties can affect the marine biology. Our research combines fieldwork studies with numerical modelling and theoretical work, with mathematics underpinning everything we do.
The U.S. launch of Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 will take place during the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings. Including your own talk, there are several sessions during the meetings that contribute directly to the mission of the MPE 2013 initiative. How did you become involved with MPE and will you be attending any other MPE events at JMM or throughout the year?
Mathematics is central to our understanding of our planet and our ability to predict its evolution and so I am very excited that a year has been dedicated to showcasing some of the excellent research that is being conducted in this important area and I am delighted to be involved. Ken Golden's public lecture on "Mathematics and the Melting Polar Ice Caps" on Saturday at JMM should be excellent. There are also special sessions at JMM on data assimilation, evaluating past climate change and modeling future variations and on the use of reaction-diffusion equations to understand planet earth that are of particular interest to me. In March, I will be giving a public lecture in San Francisco entitled "Climate disruption: what math and science have to say" as part of MPE and I will also be interested to attend the Isaac Newton Institute programme on the Mathematics of the Fluid Earth later in the year.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of MPE 2013?
I hope that the greatest legacy of MPE 2013 will be inspiring a new generation of mathematicians to apply their skills to addressing some of the grand challenges we will face as a society over the 21st century, including of course climate change.
What do you think mathematicians can add to the ongoing conversation about climate change and global warming?
Understanding and predicting the climate requires each of the different components of the climate system to be modeled - the physical system (atmosphere, oceans, ice), the biological system and the socio-economic system. Mathematicians can contribute to the development of each different model component but also at a more fundamental level to understanding the properties and behaviour of the dynamical system. In addition there is an urgent need for climate scientists and statisticians to engage more closely in the analysis of observational and model data.
Growing up, which were you interested in first: mathematics or the environment/climate? How did you eventually combine the two into a career?
Mathematics was my first passion, but I was always very interested in understanding the natural world. I studied mathematics at Oxford University as an undergraduate and then I moved to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University for my PhD where I specialized in fluid dynamics with a particular focus on studying atmospheric flows. From there I expanded my research to encompass oceanography and other aspects of climate science. I find it a real privilege to be able to combine my fascination of both mathematics and the natural environment in my research.
What advice would you give a college math major who is also interested in climate change and the environment?
If you are interested in combining math and climate/environment in a research career then an excellent place to start would be a graduate program in Earth science. Weather prediction and climate modeling grew out of the study of fluid dynamics and so many programs in atmosphere, ocean and climate dynamics have a strong emphasis on applied mathematics. You will find that to start with there is a lot of new jargon to understand, but with a strong background in mathematics - whether that be in dynamics or statistics or another branch of the subject - you will find that you can quickly make progress and that your mathematical training will stand you in good stead.
Have you ever attended the JMM? Are there any sessions or talks you’re looking forward to?
Yes, I attended back in 2008 when there was a SIAM minisymposium about climate change entitled "From Global Predictions to Local Action". This time in addition to the scientific talks, I am interested to hear the sessions on communicating mathematics since I have recently written a report on communicating climate science which was based on a comprehensive study we conducted in the UK.
Shuckburgh will present her AMS-MAA Invited Address "Using Mathematics to Better Understand the Earth's Climate" on Wednesday, January 9, 11:10 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., Room 6AB, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center during the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings.