Professor Yeh Sang-wook, Awarded for Climate Change Research
Researcher of the Month by Ministry of Science and ICT for June 2020
Global News Teamglobal@hanyang.ac.kr
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Professor Yeh Sang-wook, from the Department of Marine Sciences and Convergent Technology at the ERICA campus, awarded for 'Researcher of the Month' by Ministry of Science and ICT.
The Ministry of Science and ICT and its Research Foundation stated that Professor Yeh received this award for identifying the cause behind the increase in tropical precipitation in the Pacific region due to the increase in carbon dioxide, and for providing the basis for the increase in meteorological and climate change.
Professor Yeh is a natural scientist who has been suggesting ways to solve future problems in regards to the climate by finding out the cause behind climate change and extensively studying meteorological changes, climate change, and how fine dust can affect the climate. He said that as the increase in carbon dioxide has had a great impact on global climate change, many researchers have been trying to figure out the impact of human activity on the global climate. Tropical precipitation is one of the topics that has long been studied in the field of earth science because it acts as an energy source for global air circulation.
Professor Yeh suggested a new approach to the precipitation structure in tropical regions by predicting future climates in an atmosphere where the concentration of carbon dioxide has more than doubled since the period before the Industrial Revolution, through climate model experiments. The analysis showed that the precipitation levels in the western Pacific region had increased in all experiments with increased carbon dioxide concentration levels. Additionally, it has been identified that the Walker Circulation and the Hadley Circulation, which are the region’s major atmospheric circulations, are regulators that determine precipitation increase.
He also presented to the climatological community that structural differences in atmospheric circulation must be considered to grasp the detailed changes of tropical climates during global warming, and published related findings from his research in the March 2019 issue of Nature Communications.
Professor Yeh said, “This study is meaningful because it suggests that the Walker Circulation and the Hadley Circulation in the tropical region play the role of regulators in determining the detailed changes in the precipitation structure of the region due to the increase in regional carbon dioxide levels. We hope that this study will help us predict future changes in water circulation and abnormal meteorological/climate changes around the world.”
Meanwhile, the Science and Technology Personnel of the Month Award was established to discover and reward those who have contributed to the development of science and technology in the way of excellent research findings, to boost scientists’ morale and to spread the scientific and technological mindset to the general public. The recipients of the award receive the Minister Award from the Ministry of Science and ICT and 10 million won in prize money.
** The following is the full interview released by the Ministry of Science and ICT in a press release.
Released in 2006, the documentary The Inconvenient Truth was enough to raise mankind’s awareness of global warming. Fourteen years after 2006, in the year 2020, the industries of the future promise a richer future for mankind with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but the uncomfortable truth facing the global environment has not yet been resolved.
Professor Yeh Sang-wook from Hanyang University stresses that “having an interest in environmental changes is the most important thing that one can and should do." He is a natural scientist who observes the earth’s mysterious natural environments and explores the characteristics of various meteorological/climate variabilities and the causes behind such phenomena. His research, which started with an investigation into the El Niño effect, has expanded to establish the correlation between the heatwave, which is South Korea’s unusual weather condition during the summer, oceanic variabilities which occur every 10 years or more, and also the correlation between fine dust and atmospheric circulation. Climate change is a global phenomenon and the most international field of research because it requires a comprehensive understanding of the global environmental system in which the oceans and the atmosphere interact and have an influence on each other.
We met Professor Yeh Sang-wook, who works under the motto, “The most effective prescription begins with a definite diagnosis” by putting out his best effort to try to predict the global environment and climate’s future and to read changes to the global climate that may occur based on his climate model that helps him make assumptions under various scenarios.
Congratulations on receiving the Science and Technology Personnel of the Month Award.
- I feel like I am undeserving of this award. First of all, I would like to thank my fellow senior and junior researchers for giving me this opportunity to conduct good research together. I was able to get a lot of help and ideas by constantly interacting with my fellow researchers. Because of this, I was able to produce good results. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Korean Meteorological Society for recommending me to become the recipient of this month’s Science and Technology Personnel Award.
The concentration levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are increasing, which also has a significant impact on the El Niño effect and climate change. What made you interested in researching the El Niño effect and climate change?
- The El Niño effect was the topic for my doctoral thesis and is still what I mainly focus on as my central research theme. During my Ph.D. program, I started to extensively research the El Niño effect as I conducted a climate prediction model study with an El Niño simulation. The El Niño is confined to the tropical central and eastern Pacific region, but its impact has reached a global scale. Therefore, it is essential to understand the El Niño effect to understand the various meteorological/climate variabilities around the world.
Please introduce your major research on meteorological/climate changes.
- To make it simple, my research is focused on understanding the characteristics of various meteorological/climate variabilities observed on Earth today and the causes behind such phenomena. The phenomena that I am interested in vary from the extreme summer weather observed in our country, the heatwave, to ocean variabilities that have been occurring for more than a decade. And I want to analyze and understand how these conditions will alter the future of climate change.
Recently, you have identified the atmospheric circulation characteristics which regulate the tropical precipitation changes in the Pacific region due to the increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration levels, in other words, the regional changes in the two atmospheric circulation levels in the tropics are modulators that affect tropical precipitation. Please introduce the major parts of your research.
- Tropical precipitation is an energy source that causes global meteorological/climate variability. So, understanding the changes in precipitation levels in the tropics, especially in the Pacific region, is the basis for understanding the global water circulation and various atmospheric-ocean systems. Through this study, we were able to find that with the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, precipitation levels increase in the western Pacific region. Whether the carbon dioxide levels were doubled, tripled, or quadrupled, the precipitation levels in the Western Pacific region still increased. Additionally, the tropical region’s major atmospheric circulations, the Walker Circulation, and the Hadley Circulation were found to be the regulators that were responsible for determining the increase in precipitation levels. It is very important to understand future changes in precipitation levels in this region because precipitation in the Western Pacific Region of the tropics is a place that directly or indirectly affects water circulation or abnormal weather/climate in East Asia, including South Korea.
You have analyzed and predicted changes in the atmosphere using various climate models. Please explain to us how one can study the changes in the atmospheric and marine environments, which are nature’s greatest phenomena.
- The most essential tools for studying the changes in the atmospheric and marine environments are climate models. This is because we are unable to do any direct experiments on the atmosphere or the ocean that we encounter every day. Computer programs that reflect complex physical equations behind what governs such natural phenomena can help us predict atmospheric and oceanic motions. This computer program is a climate model. Through climate models, one can understand how the atmospheric and marine environments change by assuming various scenarios that may occur on Earth in the future.
June 5th is World Environment Day. The importance of the oceans and the atmospheric environment is being emphasized worldwide. What do climate change researchers predict the future of Earth's climate will be like? Do you have anything that you want to suggest to the people of South Korea?
- I can say for sure that if there is one topic that people should be concerned about in the future, climate change is exactly that. Imagine a scenario where the economy has boomed and great scientific discoveries have been made, and therefore human life has become richer. Even in such scenarios, if climate change occurs drastically, humans will not be able to survive. It’s easy to understand here about why we should be even more concerned about climate change than any other problem. Even if I don’t talk about my research findings, it is evident that the climate of our planet is changing fast and rapidly. Above all, I think the most important thing that we can do at this time is to pay attention to the changing environment. When every citizen pays constant attention to environmental problems, I think that policy can then be enforced and therefore encourage a change in everyone’s behavior.
As climate change is a global phenomenon, it seems that there is a need for us to communicate and cooperate with researchers from around the world and that we need to pay attention to several research findings so that the results of our research on climate change can be reflected in the international community and social policies.
- I think the most important task that needs to be done here is to understand the various phenomena that are currently happening around us and to identify the causes behind them. When the exact causes are identified, appropriate policies can then be established. Above all, climate change is a global phenomenon, so reasearch has to be an international effort. More than in any other field of study, in ours there is a more active collaboration amongst researchers from around the world.
Before being appointed as a professor at Hanyang University, you worked as a Staff Weather Officer (SWO), a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmospheric Studies (COLA) in the United States, and also as a researcher at a government-funded research institute. I think that such experiences would have been the basis for what strengthened your research competitiveness.
- Yes, that is correct. During my time as an SWO, I learned what the actual demands of the military were, and from this, I learned that the most important subject of a research project should be the most realistic one. Through my post-doctoral research in the United States and my experience as a researcher at a government-funded research institute, I was able to think about the importance of joint research and the kind of research that South Korea needs.
Along with creative research, you have also put a lot of effort into fostering great minds. As a researcher or teacher, what is the emphasis that you put on your students or the members at your lab?
- Well, I’m not so sure. What I say to my students and lab members is quite common and ordinary. I just say, “Do your best.” I emphasize that they should always choose to give their best efforts, and not to become the best. Of course, it’s good to be the best, but not everyone can be the best. But everyone can try their best. When one makes their best efforts, they can be the best, and even if they don't become the best, they will still be able to live a life without any regrets.
What is your usual attitude towards life as a researcher (your basic philosophy of life)?
- The most important attitude that a researcher should have over everything else is to never lose interest. In particular, natural scientists who study the nature of the Earth should feel: ‘How mysterious and strange natural phenomena are!', and I think that having this kind of view and perspective towards any research would make it interesting to study any other subject.
What is a challenge that you ultimately want to overcome in your research field?
- My ultimate challenge seems to be to accurately predict the future. If we can predict the future changes in weather and climate conditions that we experience every day with some accuracy, we can then share such benefits globally.
Please leave a word of advice to students who dream of becoming scientists in the future.
- Science bears many interesting and mysterious fruits. Also, such fruits can give many people great benefits. If you’re dreaming of becoming a scientist, you first need to train yourself to be observant of those around you. Scientists must also have the eye to see the other side of phenomena. You can’t have such an eye automatically. You need to have a habit of constantly observing and looking at the phenomena that occur around you, especially those that occur in nature. This habit will help you grow into becoming a great scientist.
Global News Team firstname.lastname@example.org Translation by: Lee Jung-joo