The Earth is a giant dynamical system that evolves over time at various scales, depending on the state(s) of interest. Therefore, it is not surprising that a conference on applied dynamical systems would feature topics central to Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013. Indeed, the organizers of the SIAM Conference on Applied Dynamical Systems named MPE 2013 a conference theme.

Several minisymposia are clustered around MPE 2013 concerns. Among them are a session on Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems and another, labeled, appropriately enough, Dynamics of Planet Earth. Speakers in the latter, which is organized by Hans Kaper, will discuss energy balance models, ocean circulation models, and the carbon cycle. The focus of the session will be on challenges arising in the mathematical sciences, and dynamics in particular, in modeling these complex systems and analyzing their behavior. We often hear the term “tipping point,” popularized by writer Malcolm Gladwell. Using the conceptual framework of bifurcation theory, Mary Silber will introduce the mathematical mechanisms of tipping points and highlight some of the challenges and limitations encountered in exploiting this framework; noteworthy application areas include the retreat of arctic sea ice and desertification. The concept of tipping points also surfaces in the talk of Marty Anderies on carbon cycle dynamics; here, the goal is to construct a reasonable representation of a feedback system between different carbon stores and use it to explore what might be called a “safe operating space” for humans.

These and related conference sessions and talks exemplify the many ties between dynamics and MPE 2013 and show how mathematics contributes to our understanding of the Earth.