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Scientists at Masdar Institute Create Reliable Model to Predict Extreme Weather
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Scientists at Masdar Institute Create Reliable Model to Predict Extreme Weather

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Researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focuses on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, have developed new models that can accurately predict the UAE’s key climatic variables like temperature, precipitation and soil moisture, allowing better planning and policy development relating to climate and weather.

The new hydro-climate models have found that the UAE’s weather is getting hotter and drier – with a significant increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation and soil moisture, particularly over Abu Dhabi.

“The UAE’s socio-economic development is closely linked to its climate and weather, underpinning the need for improved weather and climate prediction in the country,” said Dr. Behjat AlYousuf, Interim Provost, Masdar Institute. “The development of the UAE’s hydro-climate models underpins Masdar Institute’s mission of providing sustainable, high-tech solutions to the issues of climate change affecting the country. These hydro-climate models can be used to ensure proper water resource management, agricultural development, renewable energy deployment, and public health and safety – all of which are key to the country’s prosperity.”

Advanced climate models are important for the proper management of key economic sectors affected by climate, such as health, agriculture, aviation and renewable energy. A reliable hydro-climate model will help the country prepare for weather extremes, thus mitigating any environmental effects and giving the opportunity to reduce any impact on human and economic activity , while also helping the country effectively manage its natural resources, including its marine ecosystem, groundwater, and solar and wind resources.

“Our model predictions will provide the UAE with the crucial information needed to support decision making processes in a number of fields, including water resources management, public health planning and renewable energy development, thus bringing Abu Dhabi closer to its goals of increased welfare, security and sustainability for its people and their future,” said Dr. Taha B.M.J. Ouarda, Professor of Water and Environmental Engineering at Masdar Institute and head of the Institute Center for Water and Environment.

Dr. Ouarda is the principal investigator of this project. The research of his PhD student, UAE national Mohamed AlZaabi – whose thesis research is focused on water resource modelling in the UAE – as well as Aishah Al Yammahi, UAE national and recent Master’s graduate – whose thesis research focused on wind modelling in the UAE – has also contributed to the development of the new hydro-climate models.

“Climate modelling is an important tool in understanding the linkage between climate and hydrology especially in dry areas like the UAE. Any climate change will have a big impact, whether positive or negative, since the UAE is very sensitive to any change in rainfall, which is very important to the country’s groundwater recharge system. Groundwater is the main supply of irrigation for the country and it is already over-pumped, depleted and saline,” said AlZaabi.

Dr. Ouarda is also joined by Dr. Annalisa Molini, Assistant Professor of Water and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Hosni Ghedira, Professor of Practice and Director of the UAE Research Center for Renewable Energy Mapping and Assessment, Dr. Inas Khayal, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Systems Management, and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This project is one of nine Masdar Institute-MIT active Flagship Research projects, which are projects that bring together teams of faculty from both Masdar Institute and MIT to address key strategic research areas with the intent to build critical mass and make sizeable research impact for the UAE and the region.

“We are not just modeling the climate, which includes temperature, wind, solar irradiation, air pressure and humidity – we’re also modeling the UAE’s hydrologic cycle, including precipitation, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and groundwater, which together produce the country’s first hydro-climate models,” explained Dr. Ouarda.

The model has shown that the moisture supplied to the UAE’s soil from rain is offset by evaporation, and thus groundwater recharge is minimal. At the same time, data suggests that climate extremes in the UAE, such as long periods without rain, extremely high temperatures, dust storms and flash floods, are going to increase in intensity and frequency.

“The bottom line is that we need both a good understanding of local hydro-climate and large-scale climate variability to better predict extremes in this region,” said Dr. Molini.

Climate extremes can have significant impacts on people’s health, the marine and coastal ecosystems, and the operation of many industries, severely affecting the country’s economic growth. It is believed that these climate extremes are the result of climate change caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The results of this research can help the UAE government prepare for, manage and adapt to these climate extremes.

“One of the aims of this project is to be able to plan for rare and extreme weather events,” Dr. Ouarda added. “The UAE needs plans for a wide range of climatic phenomena  under changing climatic conditions in order to prevent disruption or damage in the case of natural disasters.”

Forecasts of climate variables such as solar radiation, wind and temperature can also be used to estimate the future potential of wind and solar energy in different areas of the country. This can contribute to the most efficient and effective deployment of renewable energy technologies. Additionally, the model’s forecasts regarding soil moisture and precipitation can be used to determine important agricultural factors, like where to plant a crop for optimal crop growth.

The model is based on a mixed statistical and physical approach and integrates data from different sources, including remote sensing.

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