Mathematics for Planet Earth

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.

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).

Click here for key dates and to submit your application online.

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.

M4PE Seminar next Monday on Convergent Estimates of Marine Nitrogen Fixation to be delivered by visiting Professor Francois Primeau

Title: Convergent Estimates of Marine Nitrogen Fixation

Speaker: Francois Primeau (UC Irvine)

Date: Mon, 18/02/2019 – 4:00pm

Venue: RC-4082, The Red Centre (School of Mathematics and Statsitics), UNSW

Uncertainty in the global patterns of marine nitrogen fixation limits our understanding of the response of the ocean’s nitrogen and carbon cycles to environmental change. The geographical distribution and ecological controls on nitrogen fixation are difficult to constrain with limited in-situ measurements. Here Prof. Primeau will present an inverse model to constrain the residual mean circulation of the ocean and to estimate rates of marine nitrogen fixation.  The results demonstrate strong spatial variability in the nitrogen to phosphorus ratio of exported organic matter that greatly increases the global nitrogen-fixation rate. It is found that new nitrogen supports up to 50% of export in subtropical gyres, that nitrogen fixation and denitrification are spatially decoupled and that current-era nitrogen sources and sinks largely balance on multidecadal timescales. These findings suggest higher than expected ocean carbon export and weaker stabilizing nitrogen-cycle feedbacks than previously thought. 

Speaker Biography:

Francois Primeau is a Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. His research is at the interface between physical oceanography and biogeochemistry where he develops computational methods to make better inferences from data and models about the physical and biogeochemical state of the ocean.

All welcome!