Zeeman on Environmental Change and the Power of Math

Mary Lou Zeeman

Mary Lou Zeeman

Bowdoin Professor of Mathematics Mary Lou Zeeman is featured in the June/July issue of MAA Focus, the newsletter of the Mathematical Association of America. The article (also viewable here) highlights an environment-themed lecture titled “Harnessing Math to Understand Tipping Points,” which Zeeman gave as part of the MAA Distinguished Lecture Series.

Zeeman sketched graphs of the earth’s energy balance and other phenomena for the audience, and boiled down concepts such as resilience — an ecosystem’s ability to withstand disturbance — to simple mathematical terms.

By tracking gradual declines in resilience, Zeeman explained, scientists can figure out how to predict abrupt shifts (or tipping points) before they happen. Such math-based insights can be used to better manage the environment, reinforcing the importance of teamwork between scientists and policy makers.

Zeeman, who is co-director of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network and an organizer of Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013, also participated in an interview with MAA Director of Publications Ivars Peterson.

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