SIAM News Blog

Mathematics at the Upcoming AAAS Annual Meeting

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society. At its upcoming 2018 Annual Meeting, to be held in Austin, Texas this February, the mathematics section of AAAS will sponsor a symposium on mathematical approaches to major challenges in public health, environmental stewardship, and ecology. The symposium, titled “Mathematics of Planet Earth: Superbugs, Storm Surges, and Ecosystem Change,” is organized by Hans Kaper and Hans Engler of Georgetown University.

Symposium speakers Glenn Webb (Vanderbilt University), Corina Tarnita (Princeton University), and Clint Dawson (University of Texas, Austin) will demonstrate how mathematical modeling and computation—coupled with new methods of gathering data—can predict, explain, or reconstruct phenomena such as the spread of diseases, storm surges, and vegetation patterns in landscapes under ecological stress. The same approaches can also assess the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns or evacuation plans, and identify early warning signals of ecological change.

During his talk on new developments in mathematical epidemiology, Webb will discuss models for diseases in individuals and communities that can track the dynamics of infectious pathogens through time and space. These models help evaluate interventions such as vaccination, quarantine, or medical treatment.

Tarnita will speak about the formation of spatial patterns in ecological systems like savannahs and shrublands. Mathematical models and data can help identify transitions of characteristic vegetation patterns that may act as early warning indicators for impending catastrophic changes, such as collapse to desert in arid regions.

Dawson will report on efforts to improve the resilience of coastal ecosystems to challenges like storm surges and land loss. Modeling resulting from collaborations spanning various fields—including mathematics, computational science, engineering, and environmental science—can help plan for the protection of coastal communities against increasing threats due to natural, ecological, and socioeconomic causes.

Collectively, the session will demonstrate successful applications of mathematical modeling and computational science, and joint efforts across disciplines to protect and improve human life and wellbeing — all part of an emerging effort to develop the “Mathematics of Planet Earth.”

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