In a year where climate change has been making headlines, Imperial College London held a free exhibition from 21st to 29th October, called ‘Mathematics of Planet Earth’.

At first glance, you could have been forgiven for thinking this display would take only minutes to whizz around. However, a treasure trove of exhibits awaited: 9 hands-on activities, 8 digital modules, 7 videos and 3 posters. Visitors could either take themselves around, or follow guided tours from knowledgeable PhD students, who provided passionate explanations of exhibit materials.

Highlights included an interactive screen explaining distortion of maps, simulation software used to compute the potential consequences of sea level rise for coastal regions, how mathematicians are needed to control the trajectories of satellites, rotating a big sphere with liquid to understand how Coriolis forces influence the violence of cyclones, replicating a tsunami wave along a channel of water and how geophysicists and mathematicians work together to determine the strength and path of earthquakes.

Visitors also found out how the work of English mathematician, J.M Hammersley, led to the understanding of how pollutants move into the soil.

Rahul Bhatia, 16-year-old student said, “Mathematical predictions of glaciologists and mathematicians about the shrinking glaciers and melting of the ice caps, if global warming continues, are enough to make you freeze!”

Visitors were also enlightened by a lecture entitled ‘Mathematics, Climate Change and Air Travel’ delivered by Paul D Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at University of Reading, who stressed five points of possible impacts of climate change on aviation: sea level rise and storm surges threaten coastal airports; warmer air causes it to be less dense and this imposes take-off weight restrictions of aeroplanes; more extreme weather causes disruptions and delays; shifting wind patterns modify optimal flight routes and fuel consumption and also the stronger jet streams and wind shears increase air turbulence.

He also explained how complicated mathematical equations and the use of supercomputers show that climate is changing not only on the ground but also where we fly-at 35,000 feet. With a combination of mathematical equations, statistics, photos and some humour, Professor Williams kept his audience captivated right till the end. The message was clear: air travel could be affected more in the future due to climate change.

Dr Radomska, Centre Manager for the ESPRC Centre for Doctoral Training in the Mathematics of Planet Earth, stated, “The lecture was well attended and very well received with over 80 attendees. What was particularly rewarding was that it attracted a wide range of people from different backgrounds and ages.” She also added that public lectures organised by EPSRC aim to offer lectures that will intrigue, entertain and stimulate debate.

It is fair to say that the exhibition and the lecture support the view that the threat of climate change is real and we urgently need to address the challenges we are faced with, taking into consideration the evidence provided by mathematicians and scientists.

Zahra D’ Souza

Sydenham High School