Hans Kaper reports on MCRN Annual Meeting and Junior Researchers Meeting

The “Mathematics and Climate Research Network” (MCRN) held its annual meeting, October 7-12 in North Carolina.

The MCRN is a virtual organization. It brings together leading researchers across the US to study the mathematics that underlies climate science. Research is done collaboratively in focus groups over the Internet, and researchers get together once a year at the annual meeting to explore new ideas and set the agenda for upcoming activities.

The MCRN has connections with similar networks in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, India, and Australia. After three years of operation, more than 100 researchers at about 50 institutions worldwide are currently affiliated with the Network. (You can find our pictures on the MCRN Web site under the “People” tab.) The Network is funded by a grant from the Division of Mathematical Sciences of the National Science Foundation.

This year’s annual meeting followed the format of previous meetings, with a Jr Researchers Meeting (October 7-9) followed by the Annual MCRN Meeting (October 10-11).

The Jr Researchers Meeting was held at the new Hampton Inn and Suites in Carrboro, near the campus of the University of North Carolina. It was attended by 34 Network participants, mostly grad students, postdocs, and junior faculty. This year’s technical talks focused on data assimilation, tipping points, and sea-ice interactions, and included a hands-on session on statistical techniques to analyze paleoclimate data for the presence of tipping points. A highlight of the meeting was a presentation on “Marine microbial processes: Climate Feedback and Model Formulation” by Professor Christof Meile from the Department of Marine Science at the University of Georgia. In addition, participants learned about preparing resumés, research statements and teaching statements for academic and non-academic jobs. Focus group sessions identified new research topics for the coming year and practiced the art of grant writing. Much of the instructional material (as well as curriculum materials, annotated reading lists, lecture notes, videos, and more) is available on the MCRN Web site under the tab “Education.”

The Annual Meeting was held at the offices of RENCI in Chapel Hill. (RENCI is the administrative center of the MCRN.) This meeting had 46 participants, including the senior researchers in the Network and many of the junior researchers. We heard reports from four Focus Groups:

Earth Orbitals
Tipping points
Ocean Circulation
Paleoclimate

In the past year, the Network held an internal competition for mini-grant proposals. Awards were made to the following projects (mentors in parentheses):

A Piecewise Smooth Conceptual Climate Model of the Neoproterozoic – Anna Barry and Esther Widiasih
Estimating non-global climate model parameters using ensemble Kalman filtering – Thomas Bellsky (Jesse Berwald and Lewis Mitchell)
Detection of critical transitions via topological methods (Jesse Berwald and Marian Gidea)
A Rigorous Analysis of the 4D-Var Estimation of Carbon Dioxide Surface Fluxes – Graham Cox and Sean Crowell (and Peter Rayner)
Conceptual Climate Models of Glacial/Interglaciation Cycles with Mixed Mode Oscillations – Andrew Roberts and Esther Widiasih
Phase Transitions in Arctic Melt Ponds – Ivan Sudakov (and Ken Golden and Yi-Ping Ma)
Testing Methods For The Detection Of Critical Transitions – Kaitlin Hill and Sarah Iams (and Jesse Berwald, Karna Gowda, Mary Silber, and Mary Lou Zeeman)
Mathematics of Climate Infographics in Teaching Calculus – Ivan Sudakov (and Alex Mahalov, Eric Kostelich and Tom Bellsky)
Each of the awardees gave a 5-minute presentation followed by 5 minutes of questions and discussion about future directions of the project.

On Thursday night, Professor Ken Golden (Department of Mathematics, University of Utah), delivered a public lecture on “Mathematics and the Melting Polar Ice Caps” at the Friday Center of the University of North Carolina. The lecture, which drew a large audience from the community, was followed by a poster and dessert reception.

The annual meeting has become an important focal point of the MCRN. While research is conducted over the Internet during most of the year, it is important to meet face-to-face at least once a year to introduce new members, identify new activities, and recharge the batteries. It makes sense to devote a separate meeting to the research activities of the junior members and to use the opportunity to improve their skills for the job market and future careers. The Annual Meeting serves a more forward-looking function; during the meeting much time was spent on planning future activities, both in the US and abroad in collaboration with the international partners. Organizing the two meetings back-to-back enhances the exchange of information and gets everyone involved in the planning process.

The above was originally posted at MPE2013 blog.