Climate change study can be data-intensive work, says scientist

SIAU MING EN Today Online 18 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — When he was working on the national climate change research project, it was not uncommon to see senior research scientist Raizan Rahmat poring over local temperature, rainfall and wind data that dated as far back as 30 years.

The 36-year-old would also be behind the computer, punching numbers into various algorithms to calculate wind flow and temperature changes, for instance.

Together with his team at the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS), he spent two years simulating 100 years of temperature, rainfall, wind and sea-level projections for Singapore and the region under the first phase of the Second National Climate Change Study.

Climate change research can be data-intensive work, but Mr Raizan was not put off by that.

“My main interest is actually in finding patterns in huge amounts of data,” said the father-of-three, an engineer by training.

This particular study by the CCRS was also important because much of the global climate models today are unable to provide high-resolution projections for a small country like Singapore, said Mr Raizan.

For instance, low-resolution models might not accurately represent Singapore’s topography — which could affect wind simulations here — and may not capture its intense but small-scale weather systems, he added.

Mr Raizan was singled out by Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli last Tuesday as a “MEWR kaki” (Malay for buddy) for his work on the study.

During the debate on his ministry’s budget, Mr Masagos noted that climate science was a complex subject that Singaporeans needed to understand more deeply to prepare better for climate change.

“We cannot overbuild, as this will incur costs, nor under-build (because) this will spell disaster,” he said. In particular, he highlighted how the extreme weather patterns from climate change pose new challenges to Singapore’s water sustainability.

Findings from the study’s first phase, which were released in April last year, showed that the unusually warm temperatures that Singapore encounters occasionally could become a norm from 2070. The island can also expect more intense and frequent heavy rainfall by then.

By the last few decades of the century, sea levels are projected to rise by between 0.25 and 0.76 metres, and temperatures could increase by 1.4 to 4.6 degree Celsius.

These projections are being used in the second phase of the study to examine the impact of climate change on areas such as water resources and drainage, biodiversity and greenery, as well as network and building infrastructure.

But the challenge of climate change research is often the amount of uncertainty that comes with climate projections, said Mr Raizan.

“Because of these uncertainties, you get a range of climate scenarios in the future. We have to ensure that when we look at these projections, we analyse them in a robust manner and based on the latest available science,” he said.

Talking to end users about the uncertainty, how it should be assessed and taken into consideration to avoid misinterpretations is another challenge, he added.

Climate change research draws on a range of disciplines. Weather is affected by wind flow, movement of air and moisture and convection, among other things, which are “mathematics in nature” and involve physics, Mr Raizan noted.

Such an area of study also involves climate science, which looks at the effects of the carbon cycle, sea surface temperatures and the amount of ice in the polar region, for example, over a longer period of time.

The climate change study was one of the CCRS’ top priorities when it was set up in 2013, in addition to its studies on tropical climate systems, which are poorly understood.

The centre supports Singapore’s efforts in climate resilience by producing robust long-term climate projections, which are essential to climate impact and adaptation.

Ongoing and future work at the centre include understanding how the atmosphere interacts with the oceans under global warming conditions, as well as urbanisation’s influence on the local climate, said a Meteorological Service Singapore spokesperson.

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