Newswise — How does Gloeotrichia echinulata, a.k.a. Gloeo, a green fuzzball of a cyanobacterium, make it into a math journal? By being associated with a problem mathematics can help tackle, that’s how.

A thriving Gloeo population can promote algal blooms that decrease the water quality of lakes, and concern about this possibility united a team of mathematicians, ecologists, students, and citizen scientists in an attempt to understand the bacterium’s life cycle. An account of their collaboration appears in the November issue of the College Mathematics Journal (CMJ), a special issue tied to the international Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 (MPE 2013) initiative.

A joint enterprise of more than 100 scientific societies, universities, research institutes, and organizations, MPE 2013 has a threefold goal: to spur research in identifying and solving fundamental questions of planetary significance, to encourage educators at all levels to communicate issues related to planet earth, and to inform the public about the essential role of the mathematical sciences in facing global challenges. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) offers the November CMJ as one contribution to this effort.

The journal’s contents attest to the power of mathematics to aid in the understanding and eventual remediation of real-world problems. The Gloeo paper aims to inspire multidisciplinary partnerships by demonstrating the utility of mathematical modeling, while another paper describes a statistical method for detecting seasonal variation in an epidemic. Charles R. Hadlock, author of Six Sources of Collapse: A Mathematician’s Take on How Things Can Fall Apart in the Blink of an Eye, shows the extent to which even undergraduate mathematics (linear equations, interpolation, geometry) can demystify the movement of water underground.

Climate science, not surprisingly, garners the most coverage. Two papers apply dynamical systems and differential equations to modeling global temperature; a Classroom Capsule discusses carbon absorption in forests; and a Student Research Project article indicates ways to coax students into modeling the rate of climate change.

The November CMJ also includes the bylines of two MPE 2013 luminaries. Christiane Rousseau, past president of the Canadian Mathematical Society and the originator of the Mathematics of Planet Earth concept, describes the mathematics behind the discovery that the inner core of the Earth is solid. In “Mathematics, Sustainability, and a Bridge to Decision Support,” Mary Lou Zeeman, co-director of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, argues that the research of mathematicians can and should inform practical decision making.

As Zeeman notes in her editorial, the MPE initiative will continue beyond 2013. College Mathematics Journal editor Michael Henle hopes the papers collected in the November issue will motivate applied mathematicians to write for MAA journals in greater numbers.

“The kind of problems attacked in this special issue are not going away soon,” Henle says. “To attack them requires mathematics, often mathematics that is accessible to undergraduates, who in turn may be inspired by such papers to pursue mathematical careers.”

The November College Mathematics Journal is available free of charge via ingentaconnect. Print copies will be available for purchase in the MAA store.

About the College Mathematics Journal The College Mathematics Journal (CMJ) aims to enhance classroom learning and stimulate thinking regarding undergraduate mathematics. It publishes articles, short Classroom Capsules, problems, solutions, media reviews, and other pieces. All target the college mathematics curriculum with emphasis on topics taught in the first two years. The MAA publishes five issues of the CMJ annually.

About the MAAThe Mathematical Association of America is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics accessible at the undergraduate level. Formed in 1915, the association members include university, college, and high school teachers; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians; and many others in academia, government, business, and industry who are interested in the mathematical sciences. MAA publishes the College Mathematics Journal and several other scholarly journals and magazines.