Hurricane Katrina

Symposium marks the UK launch of the worldwide initiative Mathematics for Planet Earth 2013.

Hurricanes. Floods. Ash dieback. Not to mention earthquakes, tsunami and bird flu.  Hardly a day goes past without a natural hazard hitting the media. But why do the scientists sometimes get it wrong?  And why can it be so hard to understand what they are saying to us? Will there be an earthquake or won’t there?

On 17 December 2012, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences will host an event, The Mathematics of Extreme Climatic Events, to mark the UK launch of the worldwide initiative Mathematics for Planet Earth 2013 .

From forecasting hurricanes to harnessing wave energy, leading mathematicians, scientists and policy makers will discuss how mathematical models and statistical analysis help us to predict, manage impact, and exploit nature’s climatic extremes. How mathematics helps Government to anticipate health-related consequences of natural catastrophic events and insurance companies to assess the financial risk of such occurrences.

Speakers will include Mr Rowan Douglas (Willis Analytics), Prof Lord Julian Hunt (UCL), Professor Virginia Murray (Health Protection Agency), Professor Rod Rainey (WS Atkins), Professor David Spiegelhalter (University of Cambridge).


The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences,

Clarkson Road, Cambridge CB3 0EH

Monday 17th December, 2-6pm


For tickets, please contact: Kathryn at

Mathematics for Planet Earth 2013: A Worldwide Initiative

From e-finance to ecology, peace-keeping to population dynamics, urban planning to oceanography, medicine to materials, and security to sustainability, mathematics plays a central role in understanding and anticipating a vast array of human and planetary concerns and in predicting, managing and capitalising on their consequences.

In 2013, mathematical scientists are uniting to tackle these and other global issues in a worldwide initiative, Mathematics for Planet Earth 2013 (MPE 2013), endorsed by UNESCO, the IMU and ICIAM.  This will be done via a range of activities including long- and short-term research programmes, workshops, summer schools, exhibitions and public lectures.

With over 100 partner organisations in more than 30 countries, including mathematical institutes, professional societies, research centres and teachers’ associations, the goals of MPE 2013 are: to formulate the most urgent planetary problems that mathematics can address; to bring together world-class researchers to find solutions to these problems; and to engage the public in a dialogue about the significance of these problems.

But how can mathematics make a difference?

Consider a pandemic. The mathematical modeling of infectious diseases shows that it is not necessary to vaccinate the whole population to eradicate a disease: models can identify the vaccination threshold and the groups to target.  Consider now the clouds.  Clouds are one of the major contributors to the uncertainty in climate predictions.  But mathematicians use advanced geometry to characterize clouds and provide a more quantitative description of their role in the climate system.  And what of your satnav?  Satnavs use optimization algorithms to plan the best route and triangulation to determine location.

With launch events already in place in the United States, Canada and Australia in addition to the UK launch, this year-long effort is expected to develop the mathematics that is fundamental to understanding the processes that sustain our planet.  Whether dealing with the geophysical issues of our earth, the atmospheric issues of our weather, the biological issues of our species, or our everyday human issues, it is mathematics that underpins our understanding and, in turn, our advancement.

Speaker biographies:

Rowan Douglas is the Managing Director of Willis Analytics for Willis Research Network, the world's third largest insurance and re-insurance broker and is Chairman of the Willis Research Network.

Virginia Murrayis Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at the Health Protection Agency and Visiting Professor in Health Protection, MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College and King’s College, London.

Rod Rainey is Head of Floating Structures at WS Atkins plc and is a Visiting Professor at University College London.

David Spiegelhalter is Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, and Professor of Biostatistics, at the University of Cambridge.  His background is in medical statistics, particularly the use of Bayesian methods in clinical trials, health technology assessment and drug safety.  He led the statistical team in the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry and also gave evidence to the Shipman Inquiry.

Julian Hunt is the Emeritus Professor of Climate Modelling in Department of Earth Sciences at University College London and an Honorary Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, at the University of Cambridge.

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