I have been involved in the organization of a one-week educational workshop Mathematics of Climate Change, Related Hazards and Risks, which took place in Centro de Investigación Matemáticas (CIMAT) in Guanajuato (Mexico) from July 29 to August 2, 2013, as a satellite activity of the Mathematical Congress of the Americas 2013. The workshop was a joint initiative of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), and the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM), and was supported by a major grant from the International Council of Science (ICSU), and by CIMAT, the three unions IMU, IUGG and IUTAM, and the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM). The members of the Scientific Committee were Susan Friedlander (University of Southern California/IMU), Paul Linden (University of Cambridge/IUTAM) and Ilya Zaliapin (University of Nevada, Reno/IUGG).
The workshop was attended by 41 participants: 30 regular participants (including 17 from Latin America), eight invited speakers, and the three organizers.
The scientific program consisted of eight minicourses of three hours each, given by Graciela Canzani (Argentina), Michael Ghil (France and US), Eugenia Kalnay (US), Roberto Mechoso (US), George Philander (US), Bala Rajaratnam (US), Eli Tziperman (US), Oscar Velaso Fuentes (Mexico), as well as a poster session, poster presentations, and two round tables. Most lecturers stayed on site for the duration of the workshop and interacted with the participants. The lectures focused on three themes: (1) Methodology of climate and natural hazards research, (2) Climate change and environmental hazards, and (3) Socio-economic implications of climate change and extreme hydro-meteorological hazards.
Among other topics, the lectures highlighted the recent successes in meteorology, where better models and better data assimilation techniques have led to significant improvements in the quality of the forecasts, including seasonal forecasts as El Niño and La Niña. Global ocean circulation was explained, together with its implications for climate and the seasonal phenomena. The difficulty of including clouds in climate models and the uncertainty it induces were discussed at length: low-altitude clouds cool the atmosphere, while high-altitude clouds warm it. To understand the climate of the future, it is helpful to understand the climates of the past, from the very warm climates that could have been equable (i.e., with small differences of temperature between the Equator and the poles) to Snowball Earth, for which a model of ocean circulation was described. The mathematics of tornadoes and of Lagrangian coherent structures in ocean and atmospheric circulation were also described. Two sets of lectures dealt with the difficulties of working and interpreting real data, whether from remote sensing or the analysis of proxies.
The final round table was targeted towards collecting the participants’ opinions about the program and organization of the event. Most of the participants indicated that they had learned a lot and that the workshop achieved the goal of being educational and capacity building. It had allowed them to make contacts and get to know personally some of the leaders in the field, as well as to become familiar with the current research trends and challenges. Several participants mentioned that they had had trouble in the past finding mathematicians interested in applications, and some acknowledged that they were now able to apply their expertise. The contacts with geophysicists were very welcome. The rigor of the lecturers was appreciated, as well as the fact that the lecturers were conscious of the weaknesses of the models. They expressed the opinion that the lecturers behaved ethically by presenting science not as a religion and by pointing out the weak points and areas where more work or better models are needed. Among the suggestions, it was noted that it would have been good to have some time for hands-on work with data sets on a specific problem. It was also mentioned that there could have been more mathematicians as opposed to geophysicists at the workshop.
The workshop lectures have been recorded by a professional firm. They will be posted very soon on YouTube and made accessible from the websites of CIMAT, MPE, and IMU.
In the opinion of the organizers, such a workshop is very useful and really fills a need in the scientific community. This is particularly true for the scientists from Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as other developing regions, whose direct contact with the leading researchers in regular meetings is limited due to monetary and logistic issues. The organizers were impressed by the dedication of the lecturers to their role as instructors. It was clear that the lecturers shared the opinion of the organizers that proactive actions should be taken to encourage more young researchers to get involved in climate studies. The format of the workshop seemed adequate for that purpose, in particular in view of the fact that the lectures were videotaped to enable the students to fill in details they might have missed during the workshop.