Day 110. Maths

In November 2012 on November 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Maths. It’s important.

Perhaps I can help you see why.

This week the world is talking about a newly published international study which describes recent accelerations in loss of polar ice.

The abstract, or summary of the paper, is written in very dense language, and consists largely of terminology which can be hard to decipher if you’re not working in the field.

Rather than read through it word for word, for the purposes of this exercise just take note of the words which are which are in bold (my highlights):

We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earth’s polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methods—especially in Greenland and West Antarctica—and that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by –142 ± 49, +14 ± 43, –65 ± 26, and –20 ± 14 gigatonnes year−1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year−1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.

The bold words all relate to maths. The point is that if you want to study, measure and estimate global climate change and rising sea levels, you need a thorough working capacity in maths.

Maths is critical to understand other aspects of our lives too. Here’s just a taste:

  • Measuring and trying to predict earthquakes;
  • Mapping the impact of tsunamis;
  • The movements of the oceans, including tides and temperature changes;
  • Weather forecasting;
  • How living species interact and compete for resources;
  • Predicting how drugs are cleared from our bodies;
  • Assessing risk factors for certain diseases or health outcomes;
  • Human processes such as finance, agriculture, water, transportation, and energy.

All these specialist areas, and more, need maths.

2013 is the International year of Mathematics of Planet Earth.  Down Under, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is teaming up with societies and organisations in Australia to spread the word about the role of maths and stats in understanding the challenges of our world in a fun and accessible way.

Embrace maths! You need it.

[image thanks to dtweeny on flickr]


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