Assistant Professor Winston Chow (Department of Geography) was recently granted the FASS Award for Promising Researcher (APR). This award is presented to researchers who have produced research that shows potential impact and promise.
Dr Chow’s research focuses on the physical processes, impacts, and mitigation of urban heat islands, urban vulnerability to climate change, and sustainable urban climatology with a focus in tropical and subtropical cities. The author of 22 academic journal articles, he has conducted interdisciplinary, multi-method urban climatology studies in cities such as Arizona, Chicago, and Singapore and is an expert on heatwaves, droughts, and flash floods. Dr Chow has examined geographical trends of urban mortality and morbidity data due to extreme urban heat, investigated how we can reduce future urban vulnerability to drought through water modelling and other planning and policy approaches, and looked at how geographical spatial scales play a key role in urban climate related adaptation techniques.
We congratulated Dr Chow and spoke to him about his research work.
Your nomination for this award was primarily due to your article, A multi-method and multi-scale approach for estimating city-wide anthropogenic heat fluxes, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment in 2014. How did you come to develop the novel multi-method approach used in the study?
For the AE paper, the idea for the multi-method approach came from discussions with my collaborators (geographers, engineers, climate modellers, statisticians, and meteorologists) on how we can improve measurements and estimates of urban anthropogenic heat using methods from different disciplinary skill-sets.
Part of the challenge (and fun!) was trying to see how scholars from different backgrounds communicate with each other so that we had a common terminology, as well as trying to ensure that the results from applying different methods were transferable across different contexts (such as across different geographical scales).
What drew you to research urban heat islands?
I have two brothers who would ask me “WHY IS SINGAPORE SO HOT?!” on numerous occasions when we were growing up e.g. when playing football, walking from indoor to outdoor locales, when sweating profusely while eating at hawker centres etc. I guess – maybe at a subconscious level – that experience influenced my decision to study heat islands since my undergrad days in NUS. :-)
NUS Geog urban climate lab (L-R: A/P Chow, Prof Andreas Matzarakis (Director of Research Centre of Human Biometeorology, German Meteorological Office – visiting NUS Geography), PhD. student Mr. Yu Minghong, A/P Matthias Roth, Research Assistant Mr. Leon Gaw)
The article contains insight on how night time A/C use can contribute to local-scale urban temperature rise at night. What are the effects of this localized temperature rise and can any harmful effects be mitigated?
Apart from the direct and immediate effect of people being exposed to hotter, more uncomfortable conditions from the waste heat, there are indirect impacts from the energy source of A/C arising from using fossil-fuels to power our electrical grid.
Since it’s hotter in cities, the “human” response would be increase A/C use (either by installing more units, or lowering the thermostat temperature); hence, more energy is used (and consumed from fossil fuels), and more greenhouse gas emissions result. It’s a rather bad feedback loop!
How to mitigate it? In my view, a combination of approaches are needed – such as more “green” spaces in buildings and outdoor spaces, building design and zoning that reduces heat retention, and policies that encourage environmental sustainability.
Your 2016 Advances in Meteorology article A Multimethod Approach towards Assessing Urban Flood Patterns and Its Associated Vulnerabilities in Singapore found that despite effective flood management, flash floods have become more common in the new millennium, “coinciding with more localised, ‘patchy’ storm events”, storms have grown in frequency and intensity, and floods have much greater economic than human costs due to insurance. What can Singapore do to preserve and bolster its defences against flash flooding?
Singapore is doing rather well in terms of controlling for flash floods – since 2013, PUB has been implementing island-wide drainage control such as installation of water detention tanks, more diversion canals, widening/deepening of existing canals, and replacing drain inlets with new grating designs to reduce blocking/choking of these inlets from debris.
That said, flash floods may not be the climate issue that we should be concerned about in the future – it’s the other extreme of prolonged droughts/dry spells (like in 2014) that will probably affect Singapore’s resilience more than floods.
Presenting in April at the European Geosciences Union 2016 General Assembly in Vienna
How do you foresee your findings being incorporated in urban environmental policy and planning?
Hmmm. I think that the applied aspects of my research – either on methods in sustainable heat island mitigation, or in quantifying urban vulnerability to climate change – has direct relevance towards environmental policy and planning.
What research topics are you preparing to work on in the future?
Future work over the next two/three years – along with my continuing heat island research work, I’m working with the National Parks Board on examining outdoor thermal comfort in Singapore’s green spaces, and I’m also looking at Singapore’s vulnerability to historical and future droughts.
Thank you, Dr Chow. We wish you well in your future projects.