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3:30 p.m.

AOSC Seminar by Dr. Sam Shen/Richard Somerville, 9/30/2021

AOSC Seminar

Dr. Sam Shen/Richard Somerville

San Diego State University

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego


Title: How can we modernize mathematics education in atmospheric and oceanic science?


A typical undergraduate majoring in atmospheric and oceanic science may take six mathematics and computing courses. Calculus, linear algebra, statistics, differential equations, and programming are taught in isolation. Teaching is often outsourced to other departments. The students do not see mathematics used in atmospheric and oceanic applications. Their major professors may think they have weak mathematics backgrounds. The students may think mathematics is difficult, abstract, and irrelevant. These problems discourage many of our students. They may leave the field. How can mathematics education be improved? We advocate gradual changes including introducing mathematical topics in a different order. We suggest an integrated mathematics curriculum including atmospheric and oceanic science examples and applications. For brevity, we call this curriculum “climate mathematics.” It is rigorous and retains key theoretical concepts. It includes valuable modern topics, such as singular value decomposition and empirical orthogonal functions. We omit less useful topics like convergence tests of infinite series and complicated integration techniques. These changes are feasible, thanks to convenient computing resources like laptop computers and smartphones, and friendly computer languages like R and Python. Modernization will take time. Many ideas deserve experimentation to see what works best. Students and faculty both have active roles to play in this process of modernizing mathematics education for atmospheric and oceanic science.



Samuel S. P. Shen is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at San Diego State University, and Visiting Research Mathematician at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Formerly, he was McCalla Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the University of Alberta, Canada, and President of the Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society. He has held visiting positions at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, and the University of Tokyo. Shen holds a B.Sc. degree in Engineering Mechanics from Nanjing University of Science and Technology, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Applied Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Richard C. J. Somerville is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He is a fellow of three scientific societies: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). He has received awards from the AMS for his research and his popular book The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change. From the AGU, he has received two major honors, the Climate Communication Prize (2015) and the Ambassador Award (2017). Somerville holds a B.Sc. degree in Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. degree in Meteorology from New York University.


Contact: Xin-Zhong Liang


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AOSC Seminar

Pre-seminar refreshment: N/A
Seminar: 3:30-4:30pm, Zoom
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