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Meet our 2020 finalists

University: University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Research topic: 

Climate change hazard impacts on sustainable development, and national adaptation responses

How did you end up doing research in the area of climate risk?

I have always been fascinated by research which helps solve practical problems. A lecture by my current PhD supervisors on assessing climate risk on critical infrastructure in different countries convinced me that such practical research is possible. That’s why I was keen to further extend this research to a topic that is close to my heart: assessing climate risk not only on critical infrastructure, but also on the natural environment and social sectors (healthcare, education etc.). Traditionally, these have been neglected in risk modelling, yet they are critical for the long-term, sustainable development of the most vulnerable nations. By accounting for the critical interdependencies across traditionally hard engineering infrastructures and natural and social sectors for sustainable development outcomes, I believe we can make better progress towards resolving the climate and sustainability challenges the world faces.

Where do you see the greatest benefit of modern technology for mitigating the risks of climate change?

Scientific research clearly shows that we need to act now to reduce future climate risks. However, to date it is unclear how to best respond to these risks as a society: Where should we invest in reducing climate risks to promote a sustainable and resilient future society, contributing to global commitments such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals? What are the potential negative consequences of adaptation investments? How do different responses interact? I see the greatest benefit of modern technology in helping to answer these types of questions in different national contexts. Systems modelling can help simulate a number of climate adaptation options under many different climate change scenarios, and also assess the potential consequences of such climate adaptation options, thereby better informing decisions to build much-needed climate resilience for a sustainable future.

How do you want to apply your work in this area in the future?

I am eager to further apply my work in many different countries around the world and to continue to bring together governments, academia and the private sector, and break up different sectoral siloes. Thereby, I look forward to applying concepts and modelling born in academia into the real world.

What is your favorite weather-related song?

It’s raining men!

University: German Reserach Center for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany 

Research topic:

Reliable, flexible and accessible flood loss prediction models using Bayesian approaches

How did you end up doing research in the area of climate risk?

As a trained Geomatics engineer, my research interests span from field surveying to analyzing remotely sensed big data. I am passionate about learning and applying innovative statistical methods and algorithms to solving societal problems. 

During the 2015 flood event in my hometown of Chennai, India, I found few reports and academic studies on the socioeconomic impacts of individual households. Most studies cited limitations relating to data unavailability, noisy measurements and inherent heterogeneity in the processes influencing losses. From this experience I understood the need for systemic, bottom-up risk assessment studies. This motivated me to pursue my PhD on developing statistical models for flood risk assessment.

Where do you see the greatest benefit of modern technology for mitigating the risks of climate change?

I see the greatest benefit in using telematics, crowd-sourced datasets and remote sensing to understand human activities and behavior toward climate risk perception and adaptation. These sources provide rapid, spatio-temporally explicit, high-resolution data concerning hazard characteristics as well as human activities. 

These data sources require exhaustive pre-processing and analysis (feature extraction) to obtain credible information. The current improvements in computing, IoT and machine learning algorithms have made it possible to process these large datasets. With respect to flood risk, these resources are more commonly used in flood monitoring and inundation mapping. However, the potential of these datasets to help understand human activities and behavior is still largely unexplored. 

How do you want to apply your work in this area in the future?

My current research focuses on systemic flood damage assessment approaches, specifically for case studies in the US and Europe. I am currently working to generalize the applicability of these approaches to other data-sparse and vulnerable regions in South and South East Asia. My next project on urban flooding in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam will first-hand validate their applicability to a rapidly developing city. 

What is your favorite weather-related song? (feel free to add a youtube link!)

Anandamruthakarshini-Amrithavarshini: Amrithavarshini is a ragam in Carnatic (musical scale of South Indian classical music) inspired by the monsoon rains. 

University: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Research topic:

Tropical cyclone risk under climate change

How did you end up doing research in the area of climate risk?

Ever since I first watched the movie “Twister” as an 8-year old, I’ve always wanted to become a meteorologist and study extreme weather. I was particularly intrigued by how research can help to better warn and prepare the public, thereby minimizing the risks and impacts of an extreme weather event. 16 years later, I graduated as a MSc in the field of Meteorology, and landed a PhD position at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where I study global-scale tropical cyclone risk and how this is going to change under climate change.

Where do you see the greatest benefit of modern technology for mitigating the risks of climate change?

I believe that modern technology can assist risk mitigation efforts from two sides. First, increasing computational power and machine-learning allows us to run and analyze climate models at higher resolutions and longer time scales. This improves our understanding of natural hazards, and how these change under climate change. Second, continuously improving and increasing satellite products greatly enhances our abilities to map assets and assess their vulnerabilities, with higher confidence than ever before. This allows us to perform large-scale risk assessments at the detail level of a local-scale study.

How do you want to apply your work in this area in the future?

My ultimate goal is to land a job where I can closely work together with stakeholders and local governments in tropical cyclone-prone regions, advise them on their tropical cyclone risk, and design suitable risk mitigation efforts.

What is your favorite weather-related song?

The Scorpions – Rock you like a hurricane

University:  University of Newcastle, Australia

Research topic:

Tempestuous winds and vulnerable Islands: a new tropical cyclone outlook for the Southwest Pacific

How did you end up doing research in the area of climate risk?

From a young age, I’ve always had a keen interest in the weather. To explore this, and to better understand how the physical world around us works, I studied Geography at Queen’s University Belfast. In my final year, I participated in an exchange program and studied for 12 months in Australia – the land of droughts and flooding rains (this is a reference to the poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar)! Here, my interest in extreme weather events and the impact of climate variability and change was kick-started. In 2016, I experienced first-hand the devastation of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston during a research trip to Fiji. Since then, I have completed a PhD at the University of Newcastle in Australia that investigated the impact of climate variability on tropical cyclone risk across the vulnerable island nations of the Southwest Pacific. My research interests have led me on an exciting trail with many opportunities, including natural peril modelling as a Natural Perils Consultant at Finity Consulting and other climate-risk projects with the Asian Development Bank. At present, I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Water, Climate and Land at the University of Newcastle and work on a number of collaborative projects, including developing innovative climate-risk products for end-users across Asia-Pacific.

Where do you see the greatest benefit of modern technology for mitigating the risks of climate change?

Climate change is a complex and multi-faceted problem. The ways in which climate change manifests and impacts different regions of the world are vastly different. With this in mind, I believe that continued investment in research and development and the ongoing collection of high-quality data are some of the keys to success. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mitigating the risks associated with climate change. A multidisciplinary and collaborative approach at the global, regional and local scale are essential.

We live in an exciting technological era, where we have seen huge advances in our ability to produce data-driven insights to inform our decision making. The advancement of machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are important to making strides in our scientific understanding of current and future risks associated with climate variability and change. These same advances also help us to develop and improve catastrophe and natural peril models to inform present and future risk. However, there is much more work do! Brokering these insights and translating scientific advances into applied risk management tools is needed for us all to better understand the risks of future climate change.

How do you want to apply your work in this area in the future?

I am continuing to apply my research and data-driven insights to develop risk management tools for end-users. I have recently developed the Long-Range Tropical Cyclone Outlook for the Southwest Pacific (TCO-SP), which provides deterministic and probabilistic island and regional-scale tropical cyclone outlooks for the Southwest Pacific region. TCO-SP provides unmatched lead times (up to four months before the start of the season) and offers a substantial advantage to assist end-users, including governments and meteorological agencies, with tailored information to support decision-making and reduce disaster risk. All outlooks are freely available on www.tcoutlook.com. Insurers can utilize TCO-SP and the new TCO-AU (for Australia) to inform general, parametric and captive insurance portfolios. I am currently working on a number of other climate risk products, including testing outlooks for other tropical cyclone basins around the globe….watch this space!

What is your favorite weather-related song? 

Hail, Rain or Sunshine by The Script