Mathematics of Planet Earth

IIASA is a partner in Mathematics of Planet Earth, an initiative of mathematical sciences  organizations around the world designed to showcase the ways in which the mathematical sciences can be useful in tackling our world’s problems.

IIASA is working with MPE to help highlight mathematical research through lectures and events around the world. Originally launched in 2013 as a year-long effort, MPE has now been extended with the same goals and objectives. 

IIASA research epitomizes the use of mathematics to solve global environmental problems. For example, the science of climate modeling was based on mathematical models developed at IIASA in the 1970’s. IIASA researchers continue to innovate in advanced mathematical systems research that applies to climate, energy systems, air pollution, food supply, and water.

The mission of Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE) is to:

  • Encourage research to identify and address fundamental questions about our planet to which mathematical sciences can contribute to a solution, including understanding earth’s climate and environment and addressing its sustainability.
  • Encourage science and mathematics teachers at all levels to communicate issues related to Planet Earth through their instruction and curriculum development.
  • Encourage students and early-career researchers in mathematical disciplines to pursue research areas related to understanding and sustaining the earth and its systems.
  • Inform the public about the essential role of the mathematical sciences in confronting challenges facing the planet.

Initially planned as a one-year effort in 2013, MPE has been extended into a permanent effort. During 2013, scientific activities relating mathematical sciences to issues of import to the planet were organized and held by research institutes and societies for the mathematical sciences around the globe. MPE 2013 planned roughly 10 long-term programs, 10 summer schools, 50 workshops, numerous special sessions at professional society meetings, and distinguished public lectures. These activities were hosted at over 30 institutions worldwide. This is truly an ambitious activity with an international scope. Without claiming to be exhaustive, MPE organizers have identified four subthemes:

  • A complex planet. Earth is a planet with dynamic processes in the mantle, oceans and atmosphere creating climate. Mathematical sciences provide tools to understand these dynamic processes and measure the variation of its dynamics due to natural interaction or anthropogenic forcing.
  • A biologically diverse planet. Earth is the home of life supporting systems which, through evolution, have generated biodiversity. Living species interact with ecosystems; new species appear or disappear; and species migrate to spread spatially. Mathematical modeling and analysis help us measure and understand what has happened in the past, predict what may happen in the future, and manage the present to promote more desirable future outcomes.
  • A planet structured by civilization. Humans have developed systems of great complexity, including those for communication, transportation, energy, water, and health care. These man-made systems are the ones over which we exert the most direct control; however, we must often analyze massive amounts of data from monitoring systems, deal with multi-scale and/or distributed systems, and identify and quantify sources of uncertainty.
  • A planet at risk. Human activity has increased to the point where it influences the global climate, impacts planet ability to feed its inhabitants, and threatens stability of these systems. We need to understand how the earth’s systems interact. How does human activity affect climate, climate affect agriculture, agriculture affect water quality? How do the availability of food and water affect human health and migration and human migration and development affect animal migration? These are highly interconnected, complex adaptive systems. The mathematics of such systems is still poorly understood, while modeling them must draw expertise from many disciplines.

MPE is organized by a variety of committees with world-wide membership, including an “Umbrella” Leadership Committee and committees focusing on workshops, public awareness, education, etc. These committees coordinate activities among the many participating institutes and societies.



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Last edited: 02 December 2015

Mathematics of Planet Earth

Learn more on the MPE Web site

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313