Mathematics and the Planet Earth: a Long Life Together I

Speaker: Ivar Ekeland

Date: Mon, Jul 15, 2013

Location: PIMS, University of British Columbia

Conference: Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013

Subject: Mathematics, Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics: Climate Modelling, Econometrics, Environmental Science, Applied Mathematics

Class: Scientific


When Colombus left Spain in 1492, sailing West, he knew that the Earth was round and was expecting to land in Japan. Seventeen centuries earlier, around 200 BC, Eratosthenes had shown that its circumference was 40,000 km, just by a smart use of mathematics, without leaving his home town of Alexandria. Since then, we have learned much more about Earth: it is a planet, it has an inner structure, it carries life , and at every step mathematics have been a crucial tool of discovery and understanding. Nowadays, concerns about the human footprint and climate change force us to bring all this knowledge to bear on the global problems facing us. This is the last challenge for mathematics: can we control change?

This is a two-part lecture, investigating how our idea of the world has influenced the development of mathematics. In the first lecture (July 15), I will describe the situation up to the twentieth century, in the second one (July 17) I will follow up to the present time and the global challenges humanity and the planet are facing today.