Maths and climate change: The melting Arctic
The Arctic ice cap is melting fast. Some scientists believe that the summer sea ice cover will disappear from the Arctic in as little as four years' time, and many predict that a total melt-down of the Arctic will occur within our lifetimes, with potentially dramatic consequences for humans, animals and the Earth's climate. But how are such predictions made?
Behind the figures quoted in the media lies an extensive body of mathematics, from global climate modelling, to understanding ice growth, helping researchers navigate around the Arctic, and analysing the data they bring back from their expeditions. These resources were originally used in a videoconference with post-16 students. Mathematical topics covered included:
- mathematical modelling
- trigonometry and loci in two and three dimensions
- use of data to inform and misinform
There was also a guest appearance from Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge at the end of the day.
- Session 1: Navigating in the Arctic (background article)
- Session 2: The temperature of the Earth: creating a mathematical model (student worksheet, additional notes, background article)
- Session 3: Arctic sea-ice: using statistics to present a case
Each school was given a role and asked to present their case from the perspective of that role:
- the environmental group
- the energy company (with a huge investment in oil production)
- the government committee
The Statistics toolkit available on the Plus website explores statistical aspects of the expedition, including the "spin" that can be put on statistical evidence to make it sound positive or negative, and methods to predict future trends in Arctic climate change.
Download the whole toolkit.
There is also a wealth of additional material available on the Plus website, from which these resources have been taken: