“Mathematical Challenges in Climate Change Science”

September 15, 2010

A contributor to the Nobel Prize-winning Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Inez Fung of the University of California, Berkeley, touched on many of the challenges of climate math in an invited talk at the 2010 SIAM Annual Meeting.

The IPCC, Fung said, considers a vast number of models, all of which are treated equally. Major goals in the next round (preparations for the Fifth Assessment Report are now under way) include examining what went into the models and finding ways to "weight" the different models.

A major mathematical question concerns the uncertainty of predictions, she said, referring to an area of increasing interest in the SIAM community. Among the many other climate-related areas in which substantial segments of the SIAM community work are multiscale modeling, data assimilation, dynamical systems. . . .

On the disparate time scales encountered in climate modeling, Fung contrasted fast (decadal) changes to such slowly occurring phenomena as the Arctic oscillation---the pressure oscillation between high and middle latitudes that resulted last year in "snow in the wrong places": Record-breaking blizzards in Washington, DC, even as Vancouver, BC, Canada, had no snow for the winter Olympics.

"We need all the help we can get," Fung said.

Slides and audio of many of the invited talks from the 2010 SIAM Annual Meeting will be posted on the SIAM Conference website at www.siam.org/meetings/.

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