Climate Change Discussion Needs to Heat Up: Ocean Maths

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The media, according to Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Summer School public lecturer and Ocean Physicist, Dr Stephen Griffies must take a lead role in resetting public discourse surrounding climate change and its impacts.

In Australia to talk about the use of maths and physics in understanding ocean circulation, Dr Griffies says public discourse about the economy, environment and weather must take climate change into account to support an honest and informed discussion.

The Princeton-based ocean physicist has seen first-hand the level of denialism still shown towards climate change, even in the face of a growing body of compelling data and research.

“I am often asked by educated people, ‘so, is all this stuff about global warming just a hoax?’ It is akin to asking if the link between cigarettes and cancer is made up,” he says.

He believes public discourse needs to draw stronger links between what the earth is telling us and the decisions and actions we report on such as fossil fuel burning. As a nation ‘girt by sea’, Dr Griffies, says Australia doesn’t need to look far to provide such context.

Ocean circulation is, he says, like bloodlines for the planet, moving heat, oxygen, carbon, and nutrients around the world and changes to these processes tell us a profound story with repercussions for life in the sea and on land.

“Understanding these physical mechanisms, their causes, patterns and changes, tells us a great deal about what is happening currently and where we are heading,” says Dr Griffies.

It is this story we need to be telling to join the dots between the changes we are seeing on our planet, such as erratic weather patterns and more frequent and severe storm and fire events, temperature rises and increased sea levels, their impacts and causes driven by human behaviours and decision making.

In his talk, Griffies will explain how oceanographers use mathematics, physics and supercomputing to understand the oceans and climate, illuminating some of the most difficult but important questions facing humanity in the 21st century.

“As we seek answers to unsolved and exciting questions about how the ocean works and how to move forward in the face of rapid climate change, mathematics and physics are playing a key role in unlocking new insights into ocean changes and their impacts on the human community and biosphere,” he says.

Members of the public are invited to join Dr Griffies for a free lecture on 30 January from 7pm at the University of New South Wales, as he discusses a maths/physics view of ocean circulation.

This lecture is part of AMSI’s four-week annual Summer School, with the 2019 event hosted by the University of New South Wales expected to again draw a record attendance. The event provides honours and postgraduate students opportunity to to develop their mathematical skills, and network with future collaborators and potential employers.

Public events featuring international speakers such as Dr Griffies, says AMSI Director Professor Tim Brown, play an important role in supporting AMSI outreach and community engagement with the application of mathematics.

“We are excited to have Stephen on board as part of this year’s Summer School program to bring to life the value and impact of mathematics and statistics on all areas of our life and understanding of the world,” he said.

A key event in the Institute’s flagship training calendar, AMSI Summer School is jointly funded by the Department of Education and Training and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, with support from The University of New South Wales, AustMS, ANZIAM, SSA and the BHP Foundation (supporting the CHOOSEMATHS project).

For more information and to book a place at the lecture, visit https://ss.amsi.org.au/public-lecture/

For Media


Dr Stephen Griffies, Princeton University & NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton USA

Stephen Griffies has been at Princeton University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory since 1993. His research spans a broad spectrum of fundamental and applied areas of ocean and climate science, including numerical modelling, mesoscale and submesoscale dynamics, turbulence parameterizations, Southern Ocean dynamics, Atlantic predictability and variability, sea level science, Lagrangian and watermass analyses, and foundations of ocean fluid mechanics. He is the 2014 recipient of the EGU Fridtjof Nansen medal for oceanographic excellence and is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

Maths/Physics View of the Ocean
Ocean circulation acts like bloodlines for the planet, moving heat, oxygen, carbon, and nutrients around the world. Furthermore, ocean circulation moderates climate: think of the different climates between a maritime region (Sydney) and a mid-continent region (Alice Springs). Ocean circulation thus affects life both on land and within the ocean. When the ocean circulation slows or speeds, the climate system is affected. Ocean and climate scientists aim to understand the physical mechanisms underlying changes in ocean circulation. What forces cause the changes? How predictable are they? To help answer these questions, oceanographers formulate mathematical equations for the governing physical laws and place the equations on supercomputers for grand simulations. In this talk I will offer a sampling of the research questions confronting ocean scientists who make use of mathematics, physics, and computer simulations. Some of the questions touch upon the most difficult questions facing humanity in the 21st century.


Professor Matthew England, Climate Change Research Centre & ARC Centre for Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW

Currently a Scientia Professor of Climate Dynamics at the University of New South Wales, Professor England has previously held an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship and was one of the founding Directors of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC)(2006 – 2012). He was the Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science during 2017-2018. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciencein 2014, and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Unionin 2016.

Professor England’s expertise covers the dynamics of the oceans and their role in climate variability and climate change on time-scales of seasons to millennia. He has published >200 papers in international refereed journals since 1992; the Google scholar list of publications can be viewed here.

Available For Interview
Princeton Univeristy and NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Ocean Physicist, Dr Stephen Griffies

Scientia Professor of Climate Dynamics at the University of New South Wales, Professor Matthew England

AMSI Director, Professor Tim Brown

Media Contact: Laura Watson
E: media@amsi.org.au
M: 04215 18733
P: +613 9035 3683

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