Good news for all of the birders out there! With warbler migration season upon us, it’s time for a giveaway. Three winners will receive a copy of The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle and The Warbler Guide app. Follow the directions below—the entry period ends May 29!
Welcome back to the warblers! Warblers are currently returning from as far away as South America now that winter 2015 is well and truly behind us. Grab your binoculars, your camera, and our guides before heading out to try and spot these musical little birds.
The Warbler Guide by Thomas Stephenson and Scott Whittle is a beautifully illustrated book that makes identifying the many species of warblers a cinch. If you don’t want to bring a book out with you on your trek, you can always download the Warbler Guide App for iOS to bring the same information right to your smartphone or tablet. In addition to the information found in the print version, the app includes 3D models of different warblers that you can rotate and pinch-zoom, playback of all songs and vocalizations, and a finder sorted by color, alphabetically, song type, and taxonomic order.
In addition to these comprehensive guides, we also have free PDFs that you can download to get started on your warbler search. The Quick Finders sort warblers in a variety of ways to make identifying and categorizing them that much easier. The North American Warblers fold out is a convenient pamphlet with QR codes included to deliver the most information in a convenient package.
Finally, make a note to check back tomorrow to enter a new giveaway! And don’t forget to tweet your warbler pics to @PrincetonNature—we’d love to see them.
This year we will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the environmental movement, Earth Day. Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day to inform the public on the importance of a healthy Earth. Earth Day has since evolved to focus on global warming and clean energy. Learn more about the history of Earth Day, here. To celebrate the day, we have compiled a book list.
|Climate Shock: The Consequences of a Hotter Planet
Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman
Climate Shock analyzes the repercussions of a hotter planet. The authors take a stance that climate change can and should be dealt with. Climate Shock depicts what could happen if we don’t deal with the environment. “This informative, convincing, and easily read book offers general audiences the basic case for global climate mitigation.” –Ian Perry, Finance & Development
|How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction
Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. Beth Shapiro explains the process of De-extinction, what species should be restored, and anticipating how revived populations might be seen in the wild. Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. “[A] fascinating book…A great popular science title, and one that makes it clear that a future you may have imagined is already underway.” —Library Journal, starred review
Check out our behind-the-scenes, #MammothMonday blog posts.
|Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast
Steve N.G. Howell & Brian L. Sullivan
Released in May, this Offshore Sea Life ID Guide, is designed for quick use on day trips off the West Coast. Color plates show species as they typically appear at sea, and expert text highlights identification features. “Filled with concise information and accurate illustrations, this terrific field guide will be a handy, quick reference for the layperson and serious naturalist on boat trips off the West Coast of the United States. No other useful guides for this region deal with both marine mammals and seabirds in the same book.” –Sophie Webb, coauthor of Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast
|The Bee: A Natural History
With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley
Bees pollinate more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. They are crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, and the economic contributions of these irreplaceable insects measure in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Noah Wilson-Rich and his team of bee experts provide a window into the vitally important role that bees play in the life of our planet. “A well-illustrated introduction to the biology of bees.” –Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report
Check out 10 Bee Facts from the book, here.
Princeton University Press recently had the opportunity to talk with Ian Morris about his new book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve.
In your book you look at the evolution of human values over tens of thousands of years. Can you briefly say why and how values change? Isn’t morality universal and unchanging?
The answer to the last part of this question is easy: yes and no. I say yes because in one sense, morality certainly is universal and unchanging. Our human values are the outcome of millions of years of evolution. Animals that were born with genes that predisposed them to value fairness, love, honor, decency, and a host of related virtues tended to flourish, while animals that did not value fairness, etc., tended not to flourish. As a result, a disposition toward these prosocial attitudes spread through the gene pool, and almost all humans share these same core values. The reason I also say no, though, is because the ways people have interpreted fairness, etc., have varied wildly through time. Few historians dispute this; but fewer still have seen that what causes values to change is not the deep thoughts of philosophers but the most basic force of all–energy. As humanity has moved from foraging through farming to fossil-fuel use, we have found that different levels of energy capture call for different kinds of social organization, and that these different kinds of organization favor very different interpretations of human values. To foragers, fairness often means that everyone should receive equal shares of food, respect, and other good things, but to people in farming society, fairness often means that people should receive very different shares, because they are felt to deserve different shares. Men deserve more than women, the rich deserve more than the poor, the free deserve more than the enslaved, and so on through too many categories to count. Foragers and farmers feel the ways they do not because the former are all saints and the latter all sinners, but because it would be almost impossible to run a foraging society like a feudal monarchy and almost impossible to run a farming society as a band of equals. Foragers who lean toward equality and farmers who lean toward hierarchy itend to outperform and replace foragers and farmers who do not. In our own age of fossil fuels, values have continued to mutate. We tend to believe that fairness means that everyone should receive somewhat equal–but not too equal–shares of food, respect, and other good things. Anthropologists who spend time in foraging or farming societies often feel as if they have stepped into alien worlds, where values are upside-down; and people from most periods in the past would have felt exactly the same way about us.
In our current Fossil Fuel age of values, you argue that violence and inequality have diminished greatly from past periods. That seems very counter-intuitive. Can you elaborate?
A lot of people today are nostalgic for a simpler, vanished, preindustrial world, and there are ways in which they are right to be so; but not if they value peace, prosperity, or (on the whole) equality. Across the last fifty years, social scientists have accumulated data that allow us to measure wealth, inequality, and rates of violence in the past. The results are surprising–so much so that they can seem, as you suggest, counterintuitive. Foraging societies tended to be quite equal in wealth, if only because almost everyone was desperately poor (by one calculation, the average income was the equivalent of about $1.10 per day). They also tended to be very violent (by many calculations, more than 10 percent of foragers died violently). Farming societies tended to be less violent than foraging societies (5 percent rates of violent death were probably not uncommon) and not quite so poor (average incomes above $2.00 per day were common); but they were also massively unequal, regularly having tiny elites that owned thousands of times more than the ordinary peasant Fossil fuel societies, by contrast, are the safest and richest the world has ever seen, and are also more equal than all but the simplest foraging groups. Globally, the average person earns $25 per day and stands a 0.7 percent chance of dying violently, and in some countries progressive taxation has pushed income inequality down close to levels not seen since the simplest foraging societies (even if it is now again on the rise). In every era before AD 1800, life expectancy at birth averaged less than 25 years; now it is 63 years. Despite all the things we might not like about our own age, it would have seemed like a magical kingdom to people in the past.
What are some of the ways our values might change as we move away from a reliance on fossil fuels?
No one knows what the future will bring, but there are plenty of signs that we are rapidly moving beyond fossil fuels. I argue in this book that changes in the amount of energy humans harvest from the world pushes them into new kinds of organizations which in turn favor different interpretations of core human values; if this is right, we might expect the 21st century to see the biggest and profoundest transformation in values in history. The industrial revolution released a flood of energy in the 19th and 20th centuries, which favored societies that evolved toward democracy, rule of law, peace, freedom, and gender equality; the big question is whether the 21st century will see these trends going even further, or whether it will see them going into reverse. The answer, I suggest, is that it all depends. There are signs that in the short term–roughly the next generation–we will see increasing inequality and increasing acceptance that such inequality is right, along with increasing instability and violence. In the medium term–the next two or three generations–we may see the values of the fossil-fuel age go into overdrive; but in the longer term–say the next century or so–the transformations may become so massive that it no longer makes much sense to speak of human values at all, because what it means to be a human being might change more in the next 100 years than it has done in the previous 100,000.
|Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels:
How Human Values Evolve
Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood to be honored at annual conference of the American Meteorological Society
On January 7th and 8th in Phoenix, Arizona, authors Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy were recognized by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) for their books Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History and Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World, respectively.
Canfield’s account of the history and importance of oxygen won him the 2014 ASLI Choice Award and will be recognized as “a well-documented, accessible, and interesting history of this vital substance.” Wood received an honorable mention for this year’s Choice Award in History. Tambora, will be acknowledged as “a book that makes this extreme event newly accessible through connecting literature, social history, and science.” More general information on the awards can be found, here.
Congratulations to Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood!
A Four Billion Year History
Donald E. Canfield
The Eruption That Changed the World
Gillen D’Arcy Wood
Everyone is familiar with bees, but few are aware of their significance in our survival. The roles of bees in the ecosystem include pollinating more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops. They also are critical to the reproduction and diversity of flowers.
10 Bee Facts:
1. Only female bees sting, and many solitary bees can’t sting.
2. A bee’s sting (or stinger) is a modified egg-laying organ.
3. A bee has five eyes: two are complex eyes that see movement well, while the other three detect light intensity.
4. Bees can see ultraviolet light, but they cannot see the red end of the spectrum, so they perceive the world as more blue and purple than we do.
5. Drones do not have a father, but they do have a grandfather.
6. Bees are herbivores, and their diet comes entirely from flowers—carbohydrates from nectar and protein from pollen.
7. Honey bees are not native to the Americas, and bumble bees are not native to Australia.
8. A queen bee has exactly the same genes as a worker: she develops into a queen simply because she is fed extra rations of royal jelly when she is a larva.
9. The honey bee genome has been sequenced; it is about one-tenth the size of the human one.
10. Bees pollinate over 130 fruit and vegetable crops, and produce many other things that benefit humans—honey, wax, resins, propolis, royal jelly, and even venom.
For more information on bees, the human-bee relationship, and beekeeping read The Bee by Noah Wilson-Rich.
With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley
Be among the first to browse and download our new earth science catalog!
Of particular interest is Paul Folkowski’s Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable. For almost four billion years, microbes had the primordial oceans all to themselves. The stewards of Earth, these organisms transformed the chemistry of our planet to make it habitable for plants, animals, and us. Life’s Engines takes readers deep into the microscopic world to explore how these marvelous creatures made life on Earth possible—and how human life today would cease to exist without them.
Also be sure to note Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction. Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in “ancient DNA” research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction.
And don’t miss out on Donald 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.
More of our leading 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 15th-19th, come visit us at booth 1712, and follow #AGU14 and @PrincetonUPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles. See you there!
Launching today, THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS is a publicly available website of the collected and translated papers of Albert Einstein that allows readers to explore the writings of the world’s most famous scientist as never before.
Princeton, NJ – December 5, 2014 – Princeton University Press, in partnership with Tizra, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and California Institute of Technology, announces the launch of THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS (http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu). This unique, authoritative resource provides full public access to the translated and annotated writings of the most influential scientist of the twentieth century: Albert Einstein.
“Princeton University Press has a long history of publishing books by and about Albert Einstein, including the incredible work found in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein,” said Peter Dougherty, director of Princeton University Press. “We are delighted to make these texts openly available to a global audience of researchers, scientists, historians, and students keen to learn more about Albert Einstein. This project not only furthers the mission of the press to publish works that contribute to discussions that have the power to change our world, but also illustrates our commitment to pursuing excellence in all forms of publishing—print and digital.”
THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS website presents the complete contents of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, and, upon its launch, the website—http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu—will contain 5,000 documents covering the first forty-four years of Einstein’s life, up to and including the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics and his long voyage to the Far East. Additional material will be available on the website approximately eighteen months after the print publication of new volumes of The Collected Papers. Eventually, the website will provide access to all of Einstein’s writings and correspondence, accompanied by scholarly annotation and apparatus.
What sorts of gems will users discover in THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS? According to Diana L. Kormos-Buchwald, director of the Einstein Papers Project, “This material has been carefully researched and annotated over the last twenty-five years and contains all of Einstein’s scientific and popular writings, drafts, lecture notes, and diaries, and his professional and personal correspondence up to his forty-fourth birthday—so users will discover major scientific articles on the general theory of relativity, gravitation, and quantum theory alongside his love letters to his first wife, correspondence with his children, and his intense exchanges with other notable scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and political personalities of the early twentieth century.”
Buchwald also noted that THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS will introduce current and future generations to important ideas and moments in history, saying, “It is exciting to think that thanks to the careful application of new technology, this work will now reach a much broader audience and stand as the authoritative digital source for Einstein’s written legacy.”
THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS enables readers to experience the writings of Albert Einstein in unprecedented ways. Advance search technology improves discoverability by allowing users to perform keyword searches across volumes of Einstein’s writing and, with a single click, navigate between the original languages in which the texts were written and their English translations. Further exploration is encouraged by extensive explanatory footnotes, introductory essays, and links to the Einstein Archives Online, where there are thousands of high-quality digital images of Einstein’s writings.
The Tizra platform was selected for this project, according to Kenneth Reed, manager of digital production for Princeton University Press, because of its highly flexible, open, and intuitive content delivery approach, and its strong reputation for reliability. Equally important was creating a user-friendly reading experience.
“One of the reasons we chose Tizra is that we wanted to preserve the look and feel of the volumes,” said Reed. “You’ll see the pages as they appear in the print volumes, with added functionality such as linking between the documentary edition and translation, as well as linking to the Einstein Archives Online, and the ability to search across all the volumes in English and German.”
THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS is an unprecedented scholarly collaboration that highlights what is possible when technology, important content, and a commitment to global scholarly communication are brought together. We hope you will join us in celebrating this achievement and invite you to explore Einstein’s writings with the links below.
Work on THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS was supported by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. endowment, the California Institute of Technology, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Arcadia Fund, U.K.
A Sampling of Documents Found in THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS
“My Projects for the Future” — In this high school French essay, a seventeen-year-old Einstein describes his future plans, writing that “young people especially like to contemplate bold projects.”
Letter to Mileva Marić — The first volume of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein revealed that the young Einstein had fathered an illegitimate daughter. In this letter to his sweetheart and future wife, Einstein, age twenty-two, expresses his happiness at the birth of his daughter Lieserl, and asks about her health and feeding.
Einstein’s first job offer — Einstein graduated from university in 1900, but had great difficulty finding academic employment. He received this notice of his appointment as a technical clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in June 1902 and would later describe his time there as happy and productive.
“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” — Einstein’s 1905 paper on the special theory of relativity is a landmark in the development of modern physics.
“On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light” — Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this paper on the hypothesis of energy quanta.
The telegram informing that Einstein he has won the Nobel Prize — Einstein was traveling in the Far East when he officially learned via telegram that he had been awarded the prize. However, he had long been expecting the prize, as evidenced by a clause regarding its disposition in a preliminary divorce agreement from Mileva in 1918.
“The Field Equations of Gravitation” — Einstein spent a decade developing the general theory of relativity and published this article in late 1915.
To his mother Pauline Einstein — Einstein writes to his ailing mother to share the happy news that his prediction of gravitational light bending was confirmed by a British eclipse expedition in 1919.
To Heinrich Zangger, on the mercurial nature of fame — Having been propelled to world fame, Einstein writes to his friend about the difficulties of being “worshipped today, scorned or even crucified tomorrow.”
To Max Planck, on receiving credible death threats — Einstein writes that he cannot attend the Scientist’s Convention in Berlin because he is “supposedly among the group of persons being targeted by nationalist assassins.”
Four Lectures on the Theory of Relativity, held at Princeton University in May 1921 — On his first trip to the United States, Einstein famously delivered these lectures on the theory of relativity.
About The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein is one of the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the documentation of the history of science. Selected from among more than 40,000 documents contained in Einstein’s personal collection, and 15,000 Einstein and Einstein-related documents discovered by the editors since the beginning of the Einstein Project, The Collected Papers provides the first complete picture of a massive written legacy. When completed, the series will contain more than 14,000 documents as full text and will fill thirty volumes. The volumes are published by Princeton University Press, sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and supported by the California Institute of Technology.
About Princeton University Press
Princeton University Press is an independent publisher with close connections, both formal and informal, to Princeton University. As such it has overlapping responsibilities to the University, the academic community, and the reading public. Our fundamental mission is to disseminate scholarship (through print and digital media) both within academia and to society at large.
http://press.princeton.edu | Twitter: @PrincetonUPress
Tizra’ digital publishing platform makes it easy to distribute and sell ebooks and other digital content directly to readers, with exceptional control over the user experience. Combining intuitive control panels with integrated ecommerce, SEO, mobile, multimedia, and content remixing capabilities, Tizra empowers content owners to respond quickly to market feedback and build audience relationships that will hold up over the long haul. The company is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, and funded in part by Rhode Island’s Slater Technology Fund.
http://tizra.com | Twitter: @tizra
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In late October, 2012 superstorm Sandy swept up from the Caribbean and pounded the Northeast. The damage was horrendous: 268 dead, $68 billion in property loss, the most expensive disaster in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. The images of President Obama and Republican Governor Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey became an icon of collaboration at a time when the country was frustrated by Washington’s seeming deadlock. Obama was swept into office the following month, and Christie’s popularity soared in the aftermath. Sandy was not the only reason for these political results, but exit polls confirmed that it was certainly a factor. It was a demonstration that government can effectively provide help in a time of crisis when those in authority do not hold government in contempt, to paraphrase Paul Krugman. It was a message that resonated with large segments of the public.
But Hurricane Sandy had come in the midst of a scientific and political controversies about the effects of climate change on the intensity and frequency of cyclonic storms, and about the nature or role of government in protecting citizens from calamities. The response to Hurricane Sandy revealed the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to these debates. Governor Christie’s post-Sandy pleading for Federal aid moved some fellow Republicans to criticize him for “big government” solutions and excessive dependence on Washington, but before Sandy and thereafter on the question of global warming like many of his Republican colleagues he had voiced his own doubts on climate change, and emphasized that he had more immediate problems to solve than to debate such arcane issues. That seemingly “practical” approach contributed to his reelection, and in October of last year in his victory speech, the governor spoke of “the spirit of Sandy,” the sense of community and cooperation in problem solving that could become the way he would meet many kinds of political and social challenges.
Unknowingly, Governor Christie was repeating the arguments of Fidel Castro in a similar situation following the disastrous Hurricane Flora of 1963. Flora, the second deadliest storm in the history of the Atlantic had killed about 8,000 people in Haiti and Cuba. Castro at the time, embarrassed by the Missile crisis mobilized all of the institutions of Cuba in the relief effort. Cuba suffered over 1,200 death which was bad enough, but given the dimension of the storm, the government effort was a tremendous success. The successful cooperation and mobilization of society convinced him that this spirit of Flora could become the attitude in which all the country’s problems were met. Castro’s actions after Flora were used to justify the effectiveness of the Revolution and, in fact, Cuba subsequently became a model for disaster mitigation and preparation, but whatever the immediate political benefits, overtime Castro’s speeches also became “greener,”and like many leaders in the Caribbean, he began to emphasize the need to take global warming and the rise of the oceans seriously.
For the most part, that has not been the case in New Jersey. The problem is that separation of practical issues from long-term issues like global warming is short-sighted. In Sandy, for example, the New Jersey Transit Corporation, basing its decision on past experience failed to move its rolling stock to high ground and as a result suffered a loss of a quarter of its trains and $150 million in damages. New York’s MTA under Governor Cuomo suffered far less because he had taken climate change as a reality and had taken necessary precautions. Both governors had been handicapped, however, by the fact that FEMA funding had been so reduced prior to Sandy that the shoreline maps of areas of possible flooding of New York and New Jersey were decades out of date.
Castro’s experience following hurricane Flora made him an advocate of strong government action in response to natural disasters, but it had also made him responsive to the challenges of environmental change. It remains unclear if Governor Christie who is looking forward to 2016 has learned a similar lesson, and more importantly, if he could make that message appealing to his political party, the leadership of which continues to deny scientific evidence of human caused climate change, or suggests that even if it does exist, there is little that can be done about it. That position combined with a neo-liberal argument for weakening financial support for the public sector, lowering investments in infrastructure, and the dismantling of central authority that has gained much support since the 1980s, and it raises the question for Governor Christie and the rest of us if the “spirit of Sandy” that he so passionately invoked will be enough to confront the challenges of climate change.
Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World and Sea of Storms. A History of Caribbean Hurricanes from Columbus to Katrina (forthcoming January 2015).
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