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Consider a Spherical Cow, 2nd ed

John Harte University of California, Berkeley

Forthcoming 2023
This textbook teaches how to make--and derive useful insight from--relatively simple models of many seemingly complex environmental problems facing our world today.

Softcover ISBN: 978-1-940380-22-3
eISBN: 978-1-940380-23-0
Est. 350 pages

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This new edition of Consider a Spherical Cow teaches basic mathematical modeling skills that are widely applicable to a huge range of environmental problems facing the world today. Organized both by modeling tools and environmental topics, this innovative book includes 56 posed problems and worked-out solutions. Readers will find introductions to topics, extensive pedagogic material explaining how to use the relevant modeling tools, and opportunities to think more deeply about or confirm steps in the provided solutions. This new edition includes 101 new quantitative homework exercises, an appendix compendium of updated environmental data, a glossary, and a bibliography, plus entirely new sections on probability, toxics, radiation and radioactivity, and epidemics.

With wide topical coverage, Harte teaches the math step by step in the context of actual posed environmental problems, emphasizes limitations and strengths of models, and describes practical applications to real problems and situations. Along with the many worked-out problems, discussion questions and quantitative problems are provided as exercises for the reader. The book emphasizes creative applications of math to environmental science, not plug-in problems.

Table of Contents



Chapter I. Warm-Up Exercises

Chapter II. Learning the Tools of the Trade

  1. Probability
  2. Steady State Box Models and Residence Times
  3. Thermodynmics and Energy Transfer
  4. Chemical Reactions and Equilibria
  5. Non-Steady State Box Models

Chapter III. Applying Basic Tools to Complex Problems

  1. Biogeochemistry
  2. Climate
  3. Survival of Populations
  4. Toxic Substances
  5. Radiation and Radioactivity

101 Homework Exercises

Appendix: Useful Numbers





John Harte

John Harte University of California, Berkeley

John Harte is a Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. He did his undergraduate studies at Harvard and his PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Wisconsin. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pew Scholars award, the Leo Szilard prize from the American Physical Society, and a George Polk award in investigative journalism. He is an elected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society, the Ecological society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has also served on six National Academy of Sciences Committees and has authored over 250 scientific journal publications and eight books. John's research focuses on ecology, climate, complexity science, and environmental policy.

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