Quick Questions for Ian Roulstone and John Norbury, co-authors of Invisible in the Storm

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!

Ian RoulstoneNorbury

 

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.

 

bookjacket 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)

Richard KarbanDr. 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:

6-6 Ecology 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]

A letter from Ingrid Gnerlich, Executive Editor of Physical and Earth Sciences

Photo on 2014-05-14Dear Readers:

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.

Ingrid Gnerlich
Executive Editor, Physical & Earth Sciences

Princeton University Press’s best-selling books for the first quarter of 2014 are…

In a slight departure, we are going to celebrate the end of our first quarter of sales in 2014 with a longer list than usual. Here are the top 30 books for the last three months, according to combined BookScan and eBooks sales.

What is remarkable about this list is that it encompasses new releases like 1177 B.C. and GDP; perennial best-sellers like On Bullshit and This Time is Different; course reading for economics and calculus; biographies of Nicola Tesla, Martin Gardner, and Maimonides; and bird guides like The Warbler Guide. It truly represents the strength, subjects, and longevity of the books we publish. This is also a list of some really terrific reads, so click through and sample free excerpts for each book.

 

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
the 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman
Beautiful Geometry by Eli Maor and Eugen Jost
Rare Birds of North America by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell
The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark
What W. H. Auden Can Do for You by Alexander McCall Smith
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline
The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century by Angela Stent
The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Phillips Feynman
Maimonides: Life and Thought by Moshe Halbertal
Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner by Martin Gardner
Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit by Charles W. Calomiris & Stephen H. Haber
The I Ching or Book of Changes edited by Hellmut Wilhelm
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance by Eswar S. Prasad
GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History by Diane Coyle
Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History by Donald E. Canfield
Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff
Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong by David Edmonds
Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism by Robert E. Buswell Jr. & Donald S. Lopez Jr.
The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel at Calculus by Adrian Banner
The Best Writing on Mathematics 2013 edited by Mircea Pitici

The Extreme Life of the Sea at the Commonwealth Club/WonderFest, San Francisco

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

Gillen D’Arcy Wood discusses his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World

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.

#UnSharkWeek Sharks Don’t Fly, but Squid Do!

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.

Read the rest of the story here.

The Extreme Life of the Sea by Stephen & Anthony Palumbi (#ExtremeLifeOTC)

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

New Earth Science Catalog!

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, an original article by Ian Roulstone and John Norbury

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.

Forecasting Superstorm Sandy: The ensemble of forecasts covering the 10 days from the formation of the cyclone on October 23; the dotted black line is the actual track of the storm. Top right inset shows the storm strike probability from midday October 21. Bottom right inset shows the ensemble predictions of Sandy’s central pressure. © ECMWF

Forecasting Superstorm Sandy: The ensemble of forecasts covering the 10 days from the formation of the cyclone on October 23; the dotted black line is the actual track of the storm. Top right inset shows the storm strike probability from midday October 21. Bottom right inset shows the ensemble predictions of Sandy’s central pressure. © ECMWF

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.

 

Bird Behavior Round-Up

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!


Birdscapes
Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience

By: Jeremy Mynott

Birdscapes is a unique meditation on the variety of human responses to birds, from antiquity to today, and from casual observers to the globe-trotting “twitchers” who sometimes risk life, limb, and marriages simply to add new species to their “life lists.” Conversational, playful, and witty, Birdscapes gently leads us to reflect on large questions about our relation to birds and the natural world. It encourages birders to see their pursuits in a broader human context–and it shows nonbirders what they may be missing.

Life of Birds
The Life of Birds

By: David Attenborough

The Life of Birds is David Attenborough at his characteristic best: presenting the drama, beauty, and eccentricities of the natural world with unusual flair and intelligence. The renowned writer and filmmaker treks through rain forests and deserts, through city streets and isolated wilderness, to bring us an illuminating panorama of every aspect of birds’ lives–from their songs to their search for food, from their eggs and nests to their mastery of the air. Beautifully illustrated with more than a hundred color photographs, the book will delight and inform both bird lovers and any general reader with an interest in nature.

A Passion for Birds
A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon

By: Mark V. Barrow Jr.

In exploring how ornithologists struggled to forge a discipline and profession amidst an explosion of popular interest in natural history, A Passion for Birds provides the first book-length history of American ornithology from the death of John James Audubon to the Second World War. Recounting a colorful story based on the interactions among a wide variety of bird-lovers, this book will interest historians of science, environmental historians, ornithologists, birdwatchers, and anyone curious about the historical roots of today’s birding boom.

Physiological Adaptations for Breeding
Physiological Adaptations for Breeding in Birds

By:Tony D. Williams

Physiological Adaptations for Breeding in Birds is the most current and comprehensive account of research on avian reproduction. It develops two unique themes: the consideration of female avian reproductive physiology and ecology, and an emphasis on individual variation in life-history traits. Tony Williams investigates the physiological, metabolic, energetic, and hormonal mechanisms that underpin individual variation in the key female-specific reproductive traits and the trade-offs between these traits that determine variation in fitness.

All About Birds
All about Birds: A Short Illustrated History of Ornithology

By: Valérie Chansigaud

Colorful, musical, graceful, easily observed–birds have always fascinated amateur and professional naturalists alike. This richly illustrated book tells the fascinating story of ornithology from ancient times to the present. Filled throughout with paintings, drawings, photographs, and diagrams, many of them in brilliant color, All about Birds is a fast-paced chronological account of the personalities and milestones that have shaped this most popular of sciences. These key figures and events are also documented in a unique twenty-page illustrated color timeline at the end of the book.

The Atlas of Birds
The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation

By: Mike Unwin

The Atlas of Birds captures the breathtaking diversity of birds, and illuminates their conservation status around the world. Full-color maps show where birds are found, both by country and terrain, and reveal how an astounding variety of behavioral adaptations–from flight and feeding to nest building and song–have enabled them to thrive in virtually every habitat on Earth. Maps of individual journeys and global flyways chart the amazing phenomenon of bird migration, while bird classification is explained using maps for each order and many key families.

Avian Architecture
Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build

By: Peter Goodfellow

Birds are the most consistently inventive builders, and their nests set the bar for functional design in nature. Avian Architecture describes how birds design, engineer, and build their nests, deconstructing all types of nests found around the world using architectural blueprints and detailed descriptions of the construction processes and engineering techniques birds use. This spectacularly illustrated book features 300 full-color images and more than 35 case studies that profile key species worldwide.


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.


Climate Change: a Movie and the Math by Ian Roulstone and John Norbury

Climate Change: a Movie and the Math

By Ian Roulstone and John Norbury

Next week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the first of three reports that constitute their Fifth Assessment Report on climate change. This first report, The Physical Science Basis, will cover a huge range of topics from the carbon cycle to extreme weather. But climate prediction also relies heavily on mathematics, which is used to quantify uncertainties and improve the models.

The role of math is illustrated by a remarkable video of our ever-changing weather. Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decommissioned Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 12 (GOES-12), which monitored our weather for the past 10 years from its isolated vantage point 36,000 kilometers above America and the Atlantic Ocean.

GOES-12 had seen it all – from wildfires, volcanic ash, and landscape parched by drought, to Hurricanes Ike, Katrina and Sandy, and the blizzards that gripped the central United States in the winter of 2009-10. NOAA created a video – 187 seconds and 3641 images – one snapshot from each day of its operational life, which amounts to 10 years’ weather flashing before our eyes in just over 3 minutes. It’s dramatic and amazing:

In Scientific American, Evelyn Lamb commented on how this video highlights “a tension between the unpredictability of the weather and its repetitiveness”. Even after a few seconds it becomes clear that the patterns revealed by clouds differ from one part of the globe to another. Great towering cumulonimbus bubble up and unleash thunderstorms in tropical regions every day, while in more temperate mid-latitudes, the ubiquitous low pressure systems whirl across the Atlantic carrying their warm and cold fronts to Europe. The occasional hurricane, spawned in the tropics, careers towards the United States (Hurricane Sandy can be seen at about 2’50’’). But the mayhem is orchestrated: the cyclones almost seem like a train of ripples or waves, following preferred tracks, and the towering storms are confined largely to the tropics.

CaptureThis image of water vapour in the atmosphere (taken by GOES-13) reveals the swirling cyclones and the tropical storms. While the detail varies from hour to hour and from day to day, there are recurring patterns. Image courtesy of NEODAAS/University of Dundee.

In fact, this movie is affording us a glimpse of a remarkable world – it is a roller-coaster ride on the ‘weather attractor’.

An ‘attractor’ is a mathematician’s way of representing recurring behavior in complex systems, such as our atmosphere. A familiar illustration of an attractor can be seen in the figure below, and it is named after one of the fathers of chaos, Edward Lorenz.

Capture
The Lorenz attractor: every point within the space delineated by the coordinate axes represents a possible state of a circulating fluid, such as the ascent of warm air and the temperature difference of the warmer rising air to the cooler descending air. The points on the ‘butterfly wings’ are the attractor: they represent the set of states through (or around) which such a system will evolve. Even if the system begins from a state that does not lie on the attractor, it tends towards the states that do. The transition from one wing of the attractor to the other (which might represent a change in the ‘weather’) can be difficult to predict, due to inherent chaos in the system. But the overall pattern captures the repetitiveness.

It is impossible to illustrate the weather attractor for the atmosphere in terms of a simple three-dimensional image: Lorenz’s very simple model of a circulating cell had only three variables. Our modern computer models used in climate prediction have around 100 million variables, so the attractor resides in a space we cannot even begin to visualise. And this is why the movie created by NOAA is so valuable: it gives us a vivid impression of the repetitiveness emerging from otherwise complex, chaotic behaviour.

Weather forecasters try to predict how our atmosphere evolves and how it moves around the attractor – a hugely difficult task that requires us to explore many possible outcomes (called an ensemble of forecasts) when trying to estimate the weather several days ahead. But climate scientists are faced with a very different problem: instead of trying to figure out which point on the 100 million-dimensional attractor represents the weather 100 years from now, they are trying to figure out whether the shape of the attractor is changing. In other words, are the butterfly wings ‘folding’ as the average weather changes? This is a mathematician’s way of quantifying climate change.

If 100 years from now, when a distant successor of GOES-12 is retired, our descendants create a movie of this future weather, will they see the same patterns of recurring behaviour, or will there be more hurricanes? Will the waves of cyclones follow different tracks? And will tropical storms be more intense? Math enables us to “capture the pattern” even though chaos stops us from saying exactly what will happen, and to calculate answers to these questions we have to calculate how the weather attractor is changing.

 


This article is cross-posted with the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ian-roulstone/climate-prediction-mathematics_b_3961853.html

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.