Mathematics for Planet Earth

PhD Project: Wake interference by swimming crocodiles

Crocodiles, including the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) have the remarkable ability to swim underwater at high speed while barely making a ripple at the surface. It has been hypothesized that crocodiles are able to do this because the bony ridges on the crocodile’s back (called scutes or osteoderms) produce destructively interfering wake patterns at the water surface, like noise-cancelling headphones. Understanding and replicating this phenomena could have important implications for submarine and ship hull design.

In this project, we will evaluate this hypothesis using a combination of theory, numerical modelling, and laboratory experiments using 3D-printed crocodile models in a wave flume. Experience with Python programming is essential. This project will be co-supervised by Dr Geoff Vasil (U. Sydney), Dr Chris Lustri (Macquarie) and Dr Shane Keating (UNSW).

Applications close 3 May for commencement in Term 3 2019.

Scientists and schools join forces to understand urban climate

A new citizen science project will place meteorological and air quality sensors in Sydney schools to gather valuable research data and increase awareness of the changing local urban environment.

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The Schools Weather and Air Quality (SWAQ) project is the brain-child of Melissa Hart, Angela Maharaj and Giovanni Di Virgilio of UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre. With funding from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, SWAQ will improve urban weather and air quality measurements around Sydney by placing meteorological and air quality sensors in its schools. Students will collect and analyse research quality data for use in science and geography curriculum-aligned classroom activities. The data will also be freely available online to the public and researchers via this website, enabling everyone to visualize the data and the current weather and air quality of each school’s location.

SWAQ investigator Angela Maharaj will discuss the SWAQ project and citizen science at a public lecture at the Bureau of Meteorology in Sydney on December 14 2018 as part of the upcoming Frontiers in Fluid Dynamics workshop. All are welcome to attend this event.

Speaker: Dr Angela Maharaj (UNSW).

Title: Schools weather and air quality (SWAQ): where citizen science meets urban climate research.

When: 6:00 pm, 14 December 2018.

Where: Bureau of Meteorology, 16/300 Elizabeth St, Sydney




Last chance to register for Frontiers of Fluid Dynamics workshop

Friday 7 December is the last day to register for this interdisciplinary workshop sponsored by the Bureau of Meterology, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, and UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics.

Find out more:

When: 8:30am-5:30pm, 14 December 2018 (lunch provided).

Where: Bureau of Meteorology, 16/300 Elizabeth St, Sydney

Registration: (Deadline 7 December)

Frontiers in Fluid Dynamics workshop

Frontiers in Fluid Dynamics is an interdisciplinary workshop that aims to bring together researchers in academia, industry, and government working on all aspects of environmental and applied fluid dynamics, including forecasting, atmosphere-ocean modeling, observations and experiments.

Abstracts are invited for oral and poster presentations. Registration is free and lunch is provided. Students and early career researchers are particularly encouraged. The workshop will be followed by the AMOS-NSW public lecture and a workshop dinner in neighboring Surry Hills (self-funded).

When: 8:30am-5:30pm, 14 December 2018 (lunch provided).

Where: Bureau of Meteorology, 16/300 Elizabeth St, Sydney

Registration: (Deadline 7 December)

Invited speakers:

Plenary lecture (9:00am): “Ensemble ocean forecasting and other next generation developments: what are the likely impacts to defence and other applications in Australia and NSW?” Dr Gary Brassington (Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

AMOS-NSW public lecture (6:00pm): “Schools weather and air quality (SWAQ): where citizen science meets urban climate research.” Dr Angela Maharaj (UNSW).


Sponsored by:


Matthew England

As a kid I grew up surfing and open water swimming every weekend here in Sydney and have been hooked on the oceans ever since. My first degree was in pure and applied mathematics but I quickly transitioned to oceanography during my PhD as I loved the sense of adventure and discovery that came with trying to understand how the ocean works.

Today I use computational models, observations, mathematical analyses and theory to study the dynamics of the oceans and their role in climate variability and climate change on time-scales ranging from seasons to millennia. I am interested in what makes our climate system tick, particularly the role played by the oceans and also sea-ice.

My work targets tropical climate modes, polar processes, the meridional overturning circulation and ocean heat uptake. While I dabble in paleoclimate problems (because they’re fascinating!), most of my time is spent studying present and future ocean processes and how they impact our climate system.

I supervise PhD projects in physical oceanography, atmosphere-ocean-ice interactions and climate dynamics. Specific projects can be tailored to fit the interests and skills of mathematics / physics graduates in the following topic areas: global water-mass formation, climate modes of variability, ocean ventilation, tropical and high-latitude climate dynamics, ocean drivers of climate variability and extremes, and global climate change.


Personal website
ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate Extremes
UNSW Climate Change Research Centre
Articles on The Conversation

Follow me on Twitter @ProfMattEngland

Shane Keating interviewed on ABC Radio National about Montreal Protocol and climate change

Dr Shane Keating (UNSW Sydney) spoke on ABC Radio National Breakfast about the lessons the Montreal Protocol has for climate policy.

Check out the interview here.  Shane also recently wrote about this topic for The Conversation.



Erik Van Sebille to present seminar on ocean dispersion with applications to ocean plastic

Patterns in dispersion and accumulation of plastic litter by ocean currents and eddies
Erik van Sebille, Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Netherlands
Mon, 15/10/2018 – 4:00pm
RC-3085, The Red Centre, UNSW
Ocean currents and eddies carry floating plastic litter from coastlines into the infamous garbage patches in the centres of the gyres. However, the time scales and pathways on which this happens are unknown. In order to assess the impact of the plastic, it is key to know where it gets carried through vulnerable ecosystems.
In this talk, Dr Van Sebille will first discuss how tracks of satellite-tracked drifting buoys can be used to create a Markov model of dispersion at the surface of the ocean. He will show that this simple model accurately simulates the formation of the garbage patches, and can be used as a quick and easy tool to assess pathways of floating stuff.
Dr Van Sebille will then introduce more complicated models of passive particulates in the ocean, based on a Lagrangian description of the flow field from high-resolution models. While Lagrangian particle tracking is widely used in oceanography to track tracers, here the challenge is to make the virtual particles actually ‘behave’ like plastic.
About the speaker: 

Erik is an oceanographer and climate scientist. His research focuses on how ocean currents transport heat, nutrients, marine organisms and plastic litter between different regions of the ocean.

He currently leads the “Tracking Of Plastic In Our Seas” (TOPIOS) project, funded by a 5-year (2017-2022) European Research Council Starting Grant.

Erik is the winner of the 2016 European Geosciences Union (EGU) Ocean Division Outstanding Young Scientist Award. In 2013, Erik was awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) by the Australian Research Council.

Erik is a strong science communicator, with appearances on international television, radio and newspapers. He was a Media Fellow with the Australian Government Climate Commission and has co-hosted a section on sea level rise in Tuvalu in the international documentary series Tipping Points. 

He is a sought-after international expert on oceanography, having done over 250 interviews on ocean circulation and plastic pollution with media outlets including CCNBBCNBCABC, New York TimesWall Street JournalGuardianTIME magazine, AP, and Reuters.

Erik also holds an honorary lectureship at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute

AMSI Summer School 2019 at UNSW Sydney

Australia’s largest national event for students in mathematical sciences will be held at UNSW Sydney in January 2019.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Summer School is a four-week residential school providing students from across Australia with the opportunity to develop their mathematical skills, meet like-minded people, and network with potential future employers.

The AMSI Summer School 2019 program offers eight carefully selected subjects to ensure the latest developments in Australian maths are offered to students, some of which may not be offered at a home university. Students can choose to study one or two courses and, with permission from a home university, students can use an AMSI Summer School subject to gain credit towards their degree.

The School is primarily for honours and postgraduate students in the mathematical sciences and cognate disciplines, but other students are welcome to apply. Courses include

Visit the Summer School homepage for more details and to register.

Shane Keating

If you looked down on the ocean from space, you would see an intricate tapestry of mesoscale eddies , 30-300 km across, interwoven with submesoscale vortices and fronts on scales of 1-30 km, and surface waves and turbulence on scales smaller than 1 km. My research uses cutting-edge developments in the fields of applied mathematics, satellite remote sensing, and physical oceanography to understand the profound influence of these features on ocean circulation, climate, and marine ecology.

Using ultra-high-resolution observations from land, sea, and space, we are now beginning to unravel the ocean’s tapestry of eddies, fronts and waves and understand, model, and predict their role in mixing and dispersion in the ocean.



Personal website
UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics
ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate Extremes
Articles on The Conversation

Follow my on Twitter @science_shane




Jan Zika

The planet is getting warmer. The ocean plays a massive role. It is partly our friend because it is a huge heat bank and can slow down the rate of warming. But it can also fight back by lifting sea levels and making cyclones more powerful. It also suffers through damage to the biosphere. We probably know less about how the ocean works than we do about outer space, yet if we knew just a bit more it would really help us manage in the future.

Since Newton we’ve had a pretty good idea of how physical systems work – at least those that aren’t super tiny, close to absolute zero or travelling close to the speed of light. The ocean and atmosphere thankfully fall into that category. This means we can write down equations describing the climate and the challenge is solving them. Sometimes this involves a few scribbles on the back of an envelope, a few pages of careful sums or getting a super computer to process a few trillion calculations. In the end without maths we can neither understand how the climate works nor make accurate predictions about what might happen.


Personal website
UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics
ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate Extremes

Follow me on Twitter: @JanDZika

Inaugural event celebrates Women in Mathematics around the world

This year the world will celebrate the Inaugural International Women in Mathematics Day on May 12. The date was chosen in honour of the birthday of the late Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal.

Events are being planned around the globe to celebrate the contribution of women to mathematics. Find your nearest events in this interactive map.
Three events taking place in Sydney for International Women in Mathematics Day:

Upcoming workshop on the future of Earth-observing satellites

Researchers and partners from industry, government, and academia are invited to a free workshop on May 24th 2019 to discuss the future of satellite-based remote sensing of Earth’s water resources and ocean dynamics. The workshop will be held at the Sydney Bureau of Meteorology and streamed live to the web.

In the coming decade, new satellite missions will map Earth’s surface water and sea level (ocean topography) at a resolution that has not been possible before. These observations will provide critical information that is needed to assess water resources on land, track regional sea level changes, monitor coastal processes, and observe small-scale ocean currents and eddies. The first of these satellites, the NASA/CNES Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, is scheduled for launch in late 2021.

The workshop on future high-resolution satellite altimetry is organized by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Surface Water Ocean Topography (AUSWOT) working group, a consortium of researchers and stakeholders from industry, government, and academia that aims to develop Australia’s capability in the field of surface water and ocean topography and address key issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region.

All researchers and partners are invited to participate in this free workshop. Click here to find out more information and to register.

M4PE Seminar – Fiona Johnson: Droughts, floods and statistics

Droughts and flooding rains – statistical methods for hydrological extremes

Wednesday the 17th of April 4pm-5pm

UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics, Red Centre room 2060 (level 2)

Talk summary
Hydrological extremes by their very nature are rare events and require careful use of statistical methods to ensure robust and reliable predictions. This presentation focuses on two case studies of application of statistical methods in hydrological engineering. The first example is the use of discrete wavelet transforms to better understand the drivers of multi year droughts in the Murray Darling Basin and how the frequency and severity of these events will change in the future. The second case study focuses on the other side of the metaphorical hydrologic coin – flooding rains and application of extreme value statistics to quantify the risk of extreme rainfall events historically and into the future.

Speaker Bio:
Fiona Johnson is a Senior Lecturer and Scientia Fellow in the Faculty of Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She is interested in changes to flooding, droughts and extreme events due to climate change and her research focuses on how best to use climate models in engineering design, with a particular interest in statistical methods that can answer these questions.  Through her research, Fiona aims to provide sustainable solutions to the water engineering problems faced by communities, particularly those in developing countries.

University-Industry partnership to focus on Dry Eye Syndrome

UNSW Sydney is collaborating with the non-profit Brian Holden Vision Institute and medical device company TeleMedC in a new $445,000 research project to develop a state-of-the-art computational model of tear film dynamics of a blinking eye.

Each time you blink, your eyes replenish the tear film, a thin fluid interface between the surface of the eye and the environment. Although it is less than a tenth the thickness of a human hair, the tear film plays an important role in cleaning and protecting the delicate ocular surface while maintaining clear vision. Chronic breakdown of the tear film is associated with Dry Eye Syndrome, a debilitating disease that affects millions of Australians and up to half those aged over 50.


Anatomy of the tear film. Credit: James J. Feng, UBC.


A critical knowledge gap is the clinical and environmental factors affecting tear film break up in both healthy subjects and dry-eye patients. The project will address this knowledge gap by developing a state-of-the-art computational model of tear film, validated against in vitro and in vivo data, suitable for clinical studies by researchers in both academia and industry.

The new research partnership involves Dr Shane Keating at UNSW’s School of Mathematics & Statistics and Dr Nicole Carnt at UNSW’s School of Optometry & Vision Science, and Prof Arthur Ho at the Brian Holden Vision Institute. The project will be carried out in collaboration with TeleMedC, LCC, a pioneering medical device company that is developing the next generation of ophthalmic diagnostic imaging systems for face-to-face and virtual medical consultations, screening, monitoring and health prevention purposes for remote and urban communities.

UNSW Sydney has awarded a prestigious Scientia PhD scholarship to PhD student Yu Wang to work with Shane, Nicole, and Arthur on developing the computational model of the tear film. The Scientia scholarship scheme aims to harness cutting-edge research to solve complex problems and improve the lives of people in local and global communities. Scientia scholars receive a $200,000 scholarship package in the form of a stipend, travel, and development support over four years. International scholars also receive a tuition fee scholarship worth $200,000. In addition, UNSW Sydney and TeleMedC, LLC have provided $45,000 in support for the project through the Industry Network Seed Fund program.