Can Maths Help us Survive Climate Change?

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Mostly we hear the role of maths in predicting the damage that climate change is causing.  But some researchers are looking how mathematical models can be used to help identify genetic patterns that could help make our crops more resilient to the effects of climate change.

There’s no doubt that it’s something we have to face, drought, pest and disease could hit harvests all across the world and cause serious food shortage.  Already we are seeing that the traditional crops of areas like the mid-west in America are perhaps not going to be optimal if the climate changes to any extent.  Worse still many areas of the world will likely be incapable of supporting any crops at all particularly in some areas that barely support subsistence farming.


The scientists are hoping that these models will help identify crops which can survive the higher temperatures and those which are drought resistance.   These areas in most risk are dubbed ‘dry area’ and account for 40% of the world’s land cover and worryingly are home to over 2.5 billion people.

This is the challenge that a group of leading mathematicians and crop scientists have just met in North Africa to discuss.  Their goal to see how applied mathematics models can be used to primarily speed up the search through various gene banks for traits which can produce climate change resistant species.

A dry area is somewhere where there is persistent water scarcity, frequent droughts and serious degradation of the land.   All these make farming difficult and climate change will make even more challenging.  It doesn’t look like we will be able to stop climate change in the short term, so there is an urgent need to use maths to help us adapt to the challenges that are to come.

Mathematical models are often used to search through huge databases in order to locate patterns and links.  Despite the growth of computing power, it is essential these models are accurate and efficient.  The previous methods relied on manual trial and error, cross breeding different species and analyzing and testing the resultant crops.  One of the models already in use is known as the Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FiGS), which has already identified some pest resistant crops including something that may be resistant to the Russian Wheat Aphid which causes huge crop losses.

There are some broadcasts on international TV channels and scientific research available online regarding both the talks in Morocco and the ongoing research.  For some individuals you may have to change your IP or switch DNS in order to access some sites which are restricted to specific locations.

John Hetherington

Science and Technology