How do we analyze the dynamics of the atmosphere, the oceans, the solid earth (especially volcanic emissions) and the biosphere (the system of plants, animals, and other living things)? Scientists have studied pieces of these systems, cutting them both conceptually and geographically, but even the pieces are not tractable by current mathematics, and the challenges as we try to understand the interplay of all phenomena involved are far beyond current conceptual and computational capabilities.

This is a theme that comes up in quite a few of the articles related to this year’s focus on the intersection of math and climate. As we begin to demand more from our models, those models will necessarily need to become more sophisticated. This requires mathematicians to create models that not only reflect reality, but are also optimized so that we can obtain results within a reasonable time frame.

There are a host of other articles discussing the interplay between climate and mathematics. Some of the articles cover related topics as well – for example, Professor Margot Garritsen’s article “Mathematics in Energy Production” provides a good example of the essential role mathematics plays in our current methods for procuring gas and oil, and briefly discusses the relationship between math and alternative energies.

With city-sized blocks of ice crumbling off of the Antarctic, there can be little doubt that climate change is happening, even if we don’t understand everything that underlies it. Will mathematics come to our rescue? Don’t worry – if it doesn’t, I’m hopeful that Captain Planet will.