|Books released during the week of October 6, 2014|
|The Bhagavad Gita:
Richard H. Davis
“This is an exciting book about an exciting book, namely, the Bhagavad Gita, a text in which Hinduism comes closest to possessing a universal scripture. Davis traces the varying course of its semantic trajectory through history with erudite clarity. A must-read for anyone interested in the Gita.”–Arvind Sharma, author of Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography
|Biomolecular Feedback Systems
Domitilla Del Vecchio & Richard M. Murray
“This is an excellent compendium of the most important techniques and results in the application of feedback and control to biomolecular systems. Biomolecular Feedback Systems is very timely, and a must-read for students and researchers.”–Ernesto Estrada, University of Strathclyde
|Birds of New Guinea:
Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler
Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay
Praise for the first edition:”This book is not only indispensable to any bird-watcher visiting New Guinea and the adjacent islands, but, owing to the wealth of its information, it will be of great interest to anyone who is seriously interested in birds.”–American Scientist
|Birds of Western Africa:
Nik Borrow & Ron Demey
Praise for the first edition:”Invaluable for serious birders and scientists working in or visiting the area. It would also make an excellent addition to a collection of field guides for home or office use.”–Condor
|The Birth of Hedonism:
The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life
“The Cyrenaics were the earliest philosophical hedonists. Evidence for their views is limited, but Kurt Lampe combines expert historical scholarship and imaginative sympathy to offer a compelling account of what they believed, what it might have been like to inhabit their worldview, and why it matters today. His itinerary takes him in the end to Walter Pater, who offered late Victorians the profound experience and attractions of a ‘new Cyrenaicism.’ This is a learned and important book, in which Lampe, like Pater, brings aspects of a lost Greek philosophical past to life.”–Charles Martindale, University of Bristol and University of York
|Change They Can’t Believe In:
The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America
Christopher S. Parker & Matt A. Barreto
With a new afterword by the authors
“A scathing analysis of the Tea Party movement, linking it in spirit to the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. Taking today’s conservative populists to be dangerous and their ideas self-incriminating, the authors speculate that Tea Party supporters may perceive of social change as subversion. Based on research and interviews, they suggest racism, desire for social dominance . . . drives the Tea Party.”–Publishers Weekly
|The Fourth Pig
With a new introduction by Marina Warner
“At her best, Naomi Mitchison is forthright and witty, writes with brio and passion and lucidity, and conveys a huge appetite for life, for people, for new adventures, and for breaking through barriers.”–From the introduction by Marina Warner
|Genealogy of the Tragic:
Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy
“There is no body of work as important for understanding the idea of the tragic as German Idealism, which fundamentally changed modernity’s notions of tragedy. I can think of no better guide to these formidable writings than Joshua Billings, who takes the reader through them with clarity, deep knowledge, and revelatory exposition. A great achievement, this is a book that scholars and students of tragedy have needed for years.”–Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge
|The Great Rebalancing:
Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy
With a new preface by the author
“[Michael Pettis is] a brilliant economic thinker.”–Edward Chancellor, Wall Street Journal
|How to Solve It:
A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
With a foreword by John Conway
“Every prospective teacher should read it. In particular, graduate students will find it invaluable. The traditional mathematics professor who reads a paper before one of the Mathematical Societies might also learn something from the book: ‘He writes a, he says b, he means c; but it should be d.’”–E. T. Bell, Mathematical Monthly
The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Jon D. Levenson
“[T]he figure of Abraham has more often been a battleground than a meeting place. This is the brilliantly elaborated theme of Levenson’s book, which retells the Abraham story while examining the use made of Abraham in later Jewish, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) Muslim thought.”–Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books
Transformation in America’s Largest Church
“Matovina gives a detailed examination of the different pastoral approaches that have been adopted to deal with the influx of Latino immigrants, with some advocating the need to assimilate quickly to American ways and others preferring to focus on preserving the religious and cultural heritage that the immigrants have brought with them. . . . Matovina’s book should be mandatory reading for all bishops, clergy, and lay leaders, and for anyone else who wants to understand the future of American Catholicism.”–Michael Sean Winters, New Republic
|The Life of Roman Republicanism
“As a demonstration of how reading Roman literature becomes absorbing political argument, this book succeeds brilliantly. Joy Connolly possesses a keen mind and her approach is informed by an astonishing stock of contemporary intellectual perspectives. She is also a deeply imaginative reader with a gift for explaining complex ideas lucidly and compellingly. I learned a great deal from this book: about Hannah Arendt and Philip Pettit as well as about Cicero, Sallust, and Horace.”—Andrew Feldherr, Princeton University
|The Meaning of Relativity:
Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)
With a new introduction by Brian Greene
“A condensed unified presentation intended for one who has already gone through a standard text and digested the mechanics of tensor theory and the physical basis of relativity. Einstein’s little book then serves as an excellent tying-together of loose ends and as a broad survey of the subject.”–Physics Today
Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine
“This is a work of immense accomplishment dedicated to understanding what it means to write in two languages about a condition of life that is, at once, both shared and separate. Lital Levy’s critical speculations are careful and courageous as her beautiful prose moves back and forth across the borderline of Israel/Palestine, forging a way of moving toward a solidarity built of sorrow and survival, failure and hope. Read Poetic Trespass and reflect anew on the ethical and poetic possibilities of a translational dialogue in a star-crossed region.”–Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest
“Rarely does a work of history unite so many seemingly disconnected fields of inquiry in such new and exciting ways. Masterfully interweaving urban, Native American, and environmental history, Power Lines is a sobering assessment of Phoenix’s expansive postwar development. The legacies of the region’s coal-powered history continue to shape contemporary politics, spaces, and our shared environmental future, making Power Lines as timely as it is insightful.”–Ned Blackhawk, Yale University
The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
Richard P. Feynman
With a new introduction by A. Zee
“Physics Nobelist Feynman simply cannot help being original. In this quirky, fascinating book, he explains to laymen the quantum theory of light, a theory to which he made decisive contributions.”–The New Yorker
|The Struggle for Equality:
Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction
James M. McPherson
With a new preface by the author
“Must surely be assigned an important place in the literature of the history of ideas and of race relations in the United States.”–The Times Literary Supplement
|Theories of International Politics and Zombies:
Daniel W. Drezner
“Drezner . . . comes up with an intriguing intellectual conceit to explain various schools of international political theory. He imagines a world overrun with zombies and considers the likely responses of national governments, the U.N and other international organizations, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs). . . . This slim book is an imaginative and very helpful way to introduce its subject–who knew international relations could be this much fun?”–Publishers Weekly
|Theory of Stellar Atmospheres:
An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis
Ivan Hubeny & Dimitri Mihalas
“This eagerly anticipated book is an excellent guide for anyone interested in radiation transport in astrophysics, as well as for those wanting to make detailed analyses of astrophysical spectra. Comprehensive, lucid, and stimulating, Theory of Stellar Atmospheres is ideal for students and scientists alike.”–Bengt Gustafsson, Uppsala University
Old Tales Told Again
Walter de la Mare
With a new introduction by Philip Pullman
Illustrated by A. H. Watson
Praise for previous editions: “Walter de la Mare has given the familiar old tales so much sparkle and humor and romance that they are like new stories.”–Horn Book Magazine
|The Two-Mile Time Machine:
Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
Richard B. Alley
With a new preface by the author
“Although not all scientists will agree with Alley’s conclusions, [this] engaging book–a brilliant combination of scientific thriller, memoir and environmental science–provides instructive glimpses into our climatic past and global future . . . “–Publisher’s Weekly
The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
“[A] biography worthy of the man. Adelman brilliantly and beautifully brings Hirschman to life, giving us an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary intellectuals. . . . [M]agnificent.”–Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker
Ian Roulstone (top) and John Norbury (bottom) are authors of Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather and experts on the application of mathematics in meteorology and weather prediction. As we head into hurricane season along the Eastern coast of the United States, we are still not fully recovered from Hurricane Sandy, empty lots still dot the stretch between Seaside and Point Pleasant and in countless other beach communities. But it could have been worse without the advance warning of meteorologists, so we had a few questions about the accuracy of weather prediction and how it can be further refined in the future.
Now, on to the questions!
What inspired you to get into this field?
Every day millions of clouds form, grow, and move above us, blown by the restless winds of our ever-changing atmosphere. Sometimes they bring rain and sometimes they bring snow – nearly always in an erratic, non-recurring way. Why should we ever be able to forecast weather three days or a week ahead? How can we possibly forecast climate ten years or more in the future? The secret behind successful forecasting involves a judicious mix of big weather-satellite data, information technology, and meteorology. What inspired us was that mathematics turns out to be crucial to bringing it all together.
Why did you write this book?
Many books describe various types of weather for a general audience. Other books describe the physical science of forecasting for more specialist audiences. But no-one has explained, for a general readership, the ideas behind the successful algorithms of the latest weather and climate apps running on today’s supercomputers. Our book describes the achievements and the challenges of modern weather and climate prediction.
There’s quite a lot about the history and personalities involved in the development of weather forecasting in your book; why did you consider this aspect important?
When reviewing the historical development of weather science over the past three centuries, we found the role of individuals ploughing their own furrow to be at least as important as that of big government organisations. And those pioneers ranged from essentially self-taught, and often very lonely individuals, to charming and successful prodigies. Is there a lesson here for future research organisation?
“We can use mathematics to warn us of the potential for chaotic behaviour, and this enables us to assess the risks of extreme events.”
Weather forecasts are pretty good for the next day or two, but not infallible: can we hope for significant improvements in forecasting over the next few years?
The successful forecasts of weather events such as the landfall of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in October 2012, and the St Jude Day storm over southern England in October 2013, both giving nearly a week’s warning of the oncoming disaster, give a taste of what is possible. Bigger computers, more satellites and radar observations, and even cleverer algorithms will separate the predictable weather from the unpredictable gust or individual thunderstorm. Further improvements will rely not only on advanced technology, but also, as we explain in our book, on capturing the natural variability of weather using mathematics.
But isn’t weather chaotic?
Wind, warmth and rain are all part of weather. But the very winds are themselves tumbling weather about. This feedback of cause and effect, where the “effects help cause the causes”, has its origins in both the winds and the rain. Clouds are carried by the wind, and rainfall condensing in clouds releases further heat, which changes the wind. So chaotic feedback can result in unexpected consequences, such as the ice-storm or cloudburst that wasn’t mentioned in the forecast. But we can use mathematics to warn us of the potential for chaotic behaviour, and this enables us to assess the risks of extreme events.
Are weather and climate predictions essentially “big data” problems?
We argue no. Weather agencies will continually upgrade their supercomputers, and have a never-ending thirst for weather data, mostly from satellites observing the land and sea. But if all we do is train computer programs by using data, then our forecasting will remain primitive. Scientific ideas formulated with mathematical insight give the edge to intelligent forecasting apps.
So computer prediction relies in various ways on clever mathematics: it gives a language to describe the problem on a machine; it extracts the predictable essence from the weather data; and it selects the predictable future from the surrounding cloud of random uncertainty. This latter point will come to dominate climate prediction, as we untangle the complex interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, ice-caps and life in its many varied forms.
Can climate models produce reliable scenarios for decision-makers?
The models currently used to predict climate change have proved invaluable in attributing trends in global warming to human activity. The physical principles that govern average global temperatures involve the conservation of energy, and these over-arching principles are represented very accurately by the numerical models. But we have to be sure how to validate the predictions: running a model does not, in itself, equate to understanding.
As we explain, although climate prediction is hugely complicated, mathematics helps us separate the predictable phenomena from the unpredictable. Discriminating between the two is important, and it is frequently overlooked when debating the reliability of climate models. Only when we take such factors into account can we – and that includes elected officials – gauge the risks we face from climate change.
What do you hope people will take away from this book?
From government policy and corporate strategy to personal lifestyle choices, we all need to understand the rational basis of weather and climate prediction. Answers to many urgent and pressing environmental questions are far from clear-cut. Predicting the future of our environment is a hugely challenging problem that will not be solved by number-crunching alone. Chaos and the butterfly effect were the buzzwords of the closing decades of the 20th Century. But incomplete and inaccurate data need not be insurmountable obstacles to scientific progress, and mathematics shows us the way forward.
|Invisible in the Storm
The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather
Ian Roulstone & John Norbury
Quick Questions for Richard Karban, author of How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition)
Dr. Richard Karban is a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. He is a recipient of the George Mercer Award, presented by the Ecological Society of America for outstanding research (1990) and was a 2010 Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Karban received a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Haverford College (1977) and completed his Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania (1982). He is the recipient of nearly a dozen research grants, whose focuses range from population regulation to plant resistance of insects and pathogens. He is the author of How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition).
Now, on to the questions!
PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?
Richard Karban: I grew up in an ugly and dangerous neighborhood in New York City. Natural history and natural areas were highly romanticized in my mind. Being an ecologist seemed like an exciting way to escape this life.
What is the book’s most important contribution?
Doing ecological research successfully requires a considerable amount of insider knowledge. We don’t teach these tips in academic classes. This book attempts to provide a simple set of guidelines for navigating the process of generating hypotheses, testing them, analyzing your results, and communicating with an interested audience. In my opinion, this is what we should be teaching ecology students, but aren’t.
“Indeed, confidence and persistence are the most important attributes that separate successful projects from failures.”
What was the biggest challenge with bringing this book to life?
The biggest challenge getting this book to happen was not allowing myself to get discouraged. I teach a graduate-level course in which each student develops an independent field project. The book started as a series of handouts that I gave my students. Each year, I revised my pile of materials. After a decade or so of revisions, I submitted a manuscript but was told that it was too short and lacked interesting visuals and other tools that would make the material accessible. Okay, so much for that, although I continued to add and tweak the content for my class. My wife, Mikaela Huntzinger, read what I had and convinced me that it would be useful to students; she also volunteered to add figures and boxes. Most of all, she encouraged me not to give up on the thing. Indeed, confidence and persistence are the most important attributes that separate successful projects from failures.
Why did you write this book?
I had a terrible time in grad school. I didn’t attend a large research university as an undergrad and I arrived with little sense of how to do research or thrive in an environment that valued research, publications, and grants above all else. Figuring out the culture was a painful process of trial and error. My experiences made me acutely aware of the “game” and made me want to share what I had learned to spare others the same pain.
Who is the main audience?
This book is intended primarily for young ecologists who can use some help posing interesting questions, answering them, and communicating what they find. Undergrads who want to do research and grad students doing a thesis are the two populations who will find the book most useful, although we hope that our colleagues will also get something from it.
How did you come up with the title and cover?
The title is a little presumptuous, but also conveys what we hope to provide in a few clear words – perfect.
The cover reflects my long-standing interest in streams that cut gently through landscapes. The first edition had a photo taken by my collaborator, Kaori Shiojiri, at our field site along Sagehen Creek. This edition features an abstraction of that image that I painted. If we write future editions, they will have further abstractions of that same theme done as a mosaic (Mikaela’s favorite medium) or as a stained glass (one of Ian’s).
Check out Chapter 1 of the book, here.
Richard Karban is the author of:
|How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition) by Richard Karban, Mikaela Huntzinger, & Ian S. Pearse
Paperback | May 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691161761
200 pp. | 5 x 8 | 8 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851263 | Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]
As many of you will know, in November 2013, the remarkable astrophysicist, Dimitri Mihalas – a pioneering mind in computational astrophysics, and a world leader in the fields of radiation transport, radiation hydrodynamics, and astrophysical quantitative spectroscopy – passed away. Though deeply saddened by this news, I also feel a unique sense of honor that, this year, I am able to announce the much-anticipated text, Theory of Stellar Atmospheres: An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis, co-authored by Ivan Hubeny and Dimitri Mihalas. This book is the most recent publication in our Princeton Series in Astrophysics (David Spergel, advising editor), and it is a complete revision of Mihalas’s Stellar Atmospheres, first published in 1970 and considered by many to be the “bible” of the field. This new edition serves to provide a state of the art synthesis of the theory and methods of the quantitative spectroscopic analysis of the observable outer layers of stars. Designed to be self-contained, beginning upper-level undergraduate and graduate-level students will find it accessible, while advanced students, researchers, and professionals will also gain deeper insight from its pages. I look forward to bringing this very special book to the attention of a wide readership of students and researchers.
It is also with profound excitement that I would like to announce the imminent publication of Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford’s Modern Classical Physics: Optics, Fluids, Plasmas, Elasticity, Relativity, and Statistical Physics. This is a first-year, graduate-level introduction to the fundamental concepts and 21st-century applications of six major branches of classical physics that every masters- or PhD-level physicist should be exposed to, but often isn’t. Early readers have described the manuscript as “splendid,” “audacious,” and a “tour de force,” and I couldn’t agree more. Stay tuned!
Lastly, it is a pleasure to announce a number of newly and vibrantly redesigned books in our popular-level series, the Princeton Science Library. These include Richard Alley’s The Two-Mile Time Machine, which Elizabeth Kolbert has called a “fascinating” work that “will make you look at the world in a new way” (The Week), as well as G. Polya’s bestselling must-read, How to Solve It. In addition, the classics by Einstein, The Meaning of Relativity, with an introduction by Brian Greene, and Feynman, QED, introduced by A. Zee, are certainly not to be missed.
Of course, these are just a few of the many new books on the Princeton list I hope you’ll explore. My thanks to you all—readers, authors, and trusted advisors—for your enduring support. I hope that you enjoy our books and that you will continue to let me know what you would like to read in the future.
Executive Editor, Physical & Earth Sciences
Steve Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, takes us to the absolute limits of the aquatic world—into the icy arctic, toward boiling hydrothermal vents, and into the deepest undersea trenches—to show how marine life thrives against the odds. He helps us appreciate and understand the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans.
But such fragile ecosystems face new challenges: climate change and overfishing could pose the greatest threats yet to our planet’s tenacious marine life. Prof. Palumbi shares unforgettable stories of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and reveals surprising lessons of how we humans can learn to adapt to climate change.
This lecture was recorded at the Commonwealth Club earlier this year. Steve and Tony’s book is The Extreme Life of the Sea. You can sample the prologue here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10178.pdf
Please enjoy Gillen D’Arcy Wood discussing his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World, due out from Princeton University Press in May.
Squid move by pumping water in and out of their bodies. Propulsion comes from using the water itself, sucked into the mantle and squeezed out through a smaller tube called a siphon in a series of strong pulses. By finely manipulating their siphons, squid maintain precise control the water stream: volume, intensity, and direction. All cephalopods carry siphons, even the lumbering octopus, but squid get the most mileage from them.
Water is heavy, so you’d expect slow acceleration from a squid. Not so: powerful rings of muscle surround the mantle, squeezing a huge amount of water through the siphon and creating large accelerations. They’ve also got a secret weapon for emergencies: a lightning-fast escape mechanism.
This book officially publishes in March 2014 and will be available in three formats: Print, standard eBook, and enhanced eBook (featuring a dozen exclusive videos that are beautifully produced and informative).
For more about the book, please visit our web site: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10178.html
“The oceans are our most precious treasure, full of creatures and stories more fantastic than any science fiction. The Extreme Life of the Sea is a fascinating exploration of this vast mysterious universe. Wonderfully written, it will grab you from page one and carry you all the way through. A must-read for everyone.”–Philippe Cousteau
“This book brims with fascinating tales of life in the sea, told with freshness, wit, and verve. Simply wonderful.”–Callum Roberts, author of The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea
Be among the first to browse and download our new earth science catalog!
Of particular interest is Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi’s The Extreme Life of the Sea. The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the aquatic world—the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents—and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches—to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and reveals how they succeed across the wide expanse of the world’s global ocean.
Also be sure to note Donald E. Canfield’s Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History. The air we breathe is twenty-one percent oxygen, an amount higher than on any other known world. While we may take our air for granted, Earth was not always an oxygenated planet. How did it become this way? Oxygen is the most current account of the history of atmospheric oxygen on Earth. Donald Canfield—one of the world’s leading authorities on geochemistry, earth history, and the early oceans—covers this vast history, emphasizing its relationship to the evolution of life and the evolving chemistry of the Earth. With an accessible and colorful first-person narrative, he draws from a variety of fields, including geology, paleontology, geochemistry, biochemistry, animal physiology, and microbiology, to explain why our oxygenated Earth became the ideal place for life.
And don’t miss out on Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World. When Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, it unleashed the most destructive wave of extreme weather the world has witnessed in thousands of years. The volcano’s massive sulfate dust cloud enveloped the Earth, cooling temperatures and disrupting major weather systems for more than three years. Amid devastating storms, drought, and floods, communities worldwide endured famine, disease, and civil unrest on a catastrophic scale. On the eve of the bicentenary of the great eruption, Tambora tells the extraordinary story of the weather chaos it wrought, weaving the latest climate science with the social history of this frightening period to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.
Even more foremost titles in earth science can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. Your e-mail address will remain confidential!
If you’re heading to the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, CA December 9th-13th, come visit us at booth 632, and follow #AGU13 and @PrincetonUPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting. See you there!
Hurricane Sandy and Global Warnings
Ian Roulstone and John Norbury
There are many heroes in the story of Hurricane Sandy, but we arguably owe the greatest debt of gratitude to mathematicians who wrangle massive amounts of data to improve the accuracy of our weather predictions. Two devastating storms, decades apart, provide a fantastic snapshot of how weather prediction has improved thanks to the introduction of computational mathematics over the last century.
Just over 75 years ago, on September 9th 1938 above the warm tropical waters near the Cape Verde islands, a storm gathered. As the weather system intensified, it was ushered westward by the prevailing larger-scale ridge of high pressure over the Atlantic. By the 16th the storm had become a hurricane, and the captain of a Brazilian freighter caught sight of the tempest northeast of Puerto Rico. He radioed the U.S. Weather Bureau to warn them of the impending danger – no satellites or sophisticated computer models to help the forecasters in those days.
A deep trough of low pressure over Appalachia forced the storm northward, avoiding the Bahamas and Florida, and towards the north-eastern seaboard of the United States. The forecasters were relying on real-time reports of the storm’s progress, but it advanced at an incredible pace, moving northward at nearly 70mph. By the time the Weather Bureau realised it was on a collision course with Long Island it was too late. The death toll from the Great New England Hurricane approached 600, with over 700 injured, and the damage was estimated at $308 million – or around $4.8 billion at today’s prices.
History very nearly repeated itself on October 29 and 30th last year, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey. Meteorologists referred to Superstorm Sandy as a “multi-hazard event”, with major damage resulting from wind gusts, from high seas, from a tidal surge, from heavy rain, and even from driving snow. The number of fatalities in the U.S., attributed either directly or indirectly to Hurricane Sandy, were around 160: a tragedy, but mercifully fewer than the number killed by the Great Hurricane of 1938.
It is almost certain that timely warnings averted greater catastrophe last year. Unlike the storm of 1938, which caught forecasters by surprise, one of the most remarkable features of the forecast of Hurricane Sandy from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) was the prediction made on October 21st, 36 hours before Sandy even formed, of a one-in-four chance of a severe storm, centred on New York, on October 30th.
ECMWF routinely produce two types of forecast for 10 days ahead. As they state in a recent newsletter “The ECMWF global medium-range forecast comprises a high-resolution forecast (HRES) and an ensemble of lower-resolution forecasts (ENS)”, and it was the ENS that helped forewarn of Sandy.
To calculate a forecast we use supercomputers to solve seven equations for the seven basic variables that describe weather: wind speed and direction (3 variables), pressure, temperature, air density, and humidity. The equations governing weather are highly nonlinear. This means that the ‘cause and effect’ relationships between the basic variables can become ferociously complex. To deal with the potential loss of predictability, forecasters study not one, but many forecasts, called an ensemble. Each member of the ensemble is started from a slightly different initial state. These different initial states reflect our ignorance of exactly how weather systems form. If the forecasts predict similar outcomes, we can be reasonably confident, but if they produce very different scenarios, then the situation is more problematic.
In the figure below the ensemble of forecasts for Sandy, starting at midday on October 23rd indicates the high probability of the ‘left turn’ and the most probable landfall – information that helped save lives. The inset at top right shows the strike probability chart that highlights the region around New York within which there is 25% chance of a severe storm by midnight on October 30th. This forecast was computed from an earlier ensemble starting at midday on October 21st and gave forecasters the vital “heads-up” of severe weather striking a highly populated area.
The science of weather and climate prediction was utterly transformed in the second half of the 20th Century by high-performance computing. But in order to fully exploit the computational power, and the information gathered by weather satellites and weather radar, we need mathematics. As we explained in our article in Scientific American [hyperlink] math quantified the choreography of Hurricane Sandy. And to account for the ever-present uncertainties in the science of weather forecasting, math delivers the tools to analyse the predictions and to highlight the dangers.
Lives were saved because of the quality of our weather forecasts, which are made possible by an international group of mathematicians and weather prediction centers. The math that helps us quantify uncertainty in weather forecasting is being used to quantify uncertainty in climate prediction. It is easy to underestimate the value of this research, but investing in this science is vital if we are to stave off future billions in damages.
For further insights into the math behind weather and climate prediction, see Roulstone and Norbury’s new book Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather.
In case you’ve been feeling a bit peckish for some great bird books to read (after devouring The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide, and How to Be a Better Birder), we’ve put together another round-up of bird books just for you. While the other round-up focused on raptors (which can be found here), this one will be focusing on bird behavior and history. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering. Click on the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.