New Research Network to Focus on Math and Climate

September 15, 2010

Hans Kaper

The Mathematics and Climate Research Network, a new national resource with participants at 13 U.S. universities, has been established with support from the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation. Working together as a virtual community of scholars, researchers at the participating institutions will use methods of modern mathematics and statistics to address issues of modeling and analysis in climate science. Participating researchers will take full advantage of current information technology, communicating and collaborating for the most part remotely via the Internet.

Chris Jones (University of North Carolina) is director of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network; co-directors are Mary-Lou Zeeman (Bowdoin College) and Hans Kaper (Argonne National Laboratory and Georgetown University). The principal investigators are located at the 13 participating universities. The network will support graduate students and postdocs, who will be based at home institutions but will also spend significant time at other institutions in the network to become familiar with the many diverse aspects of climate science.

PIs will hold regular weekly "webinars" and working meetings over the Internet. The Renaissance Computing Institute, based at UNC Chapel Hill, will support the IT infrastructure of the network.

"We all hear and know a lot about climate change, but it has not received a lot of attention from the mathematical sciences community," Jones says. "In some ways, this is quite surprising as we have only one Earth and therefore must rely on mathematical models to carry out experiments." The principal investigators of this award hope to energize the mathematical sciences research community and stimulate mathematicians and statisticians to become involved in this emerging area of research in the mathematical sciences.

The project is driven by the need to better understand the Earth's climate system. Climate is the result of many geophysical and chemical processes in the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere. These processes evolve in time over disparate time scales, ranging from minutes to centuries, and interact in multiple ways, most often nonlinearly. Feedback mechanisms, many of which are as yet poorly understood, further complicate the picture. The mathematical models must be simple enough that they don't exceed the capabilities of today's advanced computer architectures, while still incorporating the physical and chemical processes that are essential for realistic climate outcomes. This is where mathematical scientists can bring their expertise to bear on climate science. It is anticipated that this multiyear effort will define a research area of "climate mathematics" and help educate and excite a new generation of mathematical researchers to meet the scientific challenges associated with a changing climate.

The research efforts will focus initially on three key themes: (1) Dynamics of Climate, consideration of critical climate processes and their interactions; (2) Climate Process Modeling, the modeling of climate components that have been underrepresented in climate models, such as the multiscale material structure of sea ice; and (3) Data Analysis and Data Assimilation, in which mathematical tools will be developed for analyzing climate data and assimilating the data in current climate models. Educational materials will be developed and made freely available to the research community.

Hans Kaper is a senior mathematician emeritus at Argonne National Laboratory and an adjunct professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Georgetown University.

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