UNSW's climate change couple

Youngil Kim and Hae Na Yoon are something of an anomaly at UNSW Sydney. The couple met while completing their Masters at the Climate Change Adaptation in Water Resources Research Centre, Seoul National University, and two years later, they were married and on their way to UNSW Sydney together to embark upon their PhDs.

Climate change was what first brought the couple together, and, unsurprisingly, it has been a common source of discussion throughout their relationship. They are each researching different but equally important aspects of climate change, but they understand enough about each other’s research to be able to help in tangible ways.Hae Na Yoon and Youngil Kim, PhD students at UNSW

“We can easily ask each other questions, discuss options, exchange ideas, and more. In this unique situation, we feel like one plus one equals three, five, or more,” says Hae Na.

Youngil and Hae Na are committed to the importance and urgency of climate change adaptation, and Youngil says that the effects of climate change are severe enough to warrant urgent action.

“The rise in global average temperature not only has a direct impact on the environment through changes in sea level rise and precipitation extremes, but also a variety of impacts on human life through water, energy, agriculture and food. Relevant research is necessary to cope with such changes, and appropriate measures for adaptation to water resources must be established,” he says.

Hae Na’s research is supported by the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and Youngil’s research is supported by the UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarships Scheme. They each have different strengths, and this is obvious through the research topics they have chosen.

Hae Na has strengths in mathematics, statistical hydrology and data analysis, and her research investigates hydrologic predictions. Specifically, she is exploring how to improve the predictions under conditions of uncertainty. With supervision by Prof Lucy Marshall and Prof Ashish Sharma, she is working on developing a novel framework to use satellite data for hydrologic prediction and to quantify and constrain uncertainty within these predictions.

“My research will help to inform better predictions in ungauged basins using satellite data in place of in-situ data. Since in-situ gauges are not available in most river catchments, satellites will play a pivotal role in filling the absence of data, leading to enhanced hydrologic prediction, which is essential to manage water resource issues across the world,” says Hae Na.

Youngil has extensive knowledge in physical hydrology, climate scenario analysis and programming languages. His research, supervised by Prof Ashish Sharma, Prof Jason Evans and A/Prof Fiona Johnson, analyses the intensification of storms and determines the extent to which extreme precipitation was caused by increases in temperature due to climate change. He looks at climate modeling experiments to assess the extent of temperature increases and removes systematic biases in boundary conditions to evaluate the extent of the change resulting in extreme precipitation.

“My research is to reduce systematic biases in the regional climate model boundary conditions for the simulation of precipitation extremes. These results can help establish a framework to design civil engineering infrastructures in warmer climates,” says Youngil.

The couple says that over the past few years, they have been focused on contributing knowledge to the many countries in the world who are experiencing water problems. They say that UNSW has allowed them to do this through its facilities, people and reputation.

We can easily ask each other questions, discuss options, exchange ideas, and more. In this unique situation, we feel like one plus one equals three, five, or more.

Hae Na Yoon, PhD student

“We wanted to address global issues, which is one of the reasons we applied for UNSW. The professors within our supervision teams are globally known experts and have published numerous papers with substantial impacts. Also, the UNSW water research group is highly ranked globally with many talented researchers. With these advantages at UNSW, we knew we would be in the best position to improve our knowledge, boost our research outcomes, and gain broader expertise.”

After graduation, both Hae Na and Youngil would like to stay in their research field, and they hope to work in an international research organisation where they can address more worldwide water issues. While completing their PhDs simultaneously can sometimes be challenging (they need to be very organised with household matters!) they are focused on supporting each other and taking things day by day.

“Since we are on the same track, we have the same uncertainties at every step. Sometimes this puts pressure on us… but who knows? Nothing is certain in life. So, we have decided to embrace the uncertainty and enjoy the ride.”

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