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Untamed skies: Where science meets humanity [TEDxHonolulu 2013]

Owen Shieh

Owen Shieh, PhD candidate, Meteorology

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa graduate student Owen Shieh is presenting a talk at the TEDxHonolulu event, titled:  “Untamed skies:  Where science meets humanity.”

“Centuries of scientific and technological advancements have allowed us to survive the harshest of conditions, but weather remains an untamed force of nature,” said Shieh, a graduate student in the UH Mānoa department of meteorology.

“For TEDxHonolulu, my ‘idea worth sharing’ is that we can cultivate a stronger community by understanding the nature of hazardous weather events and paying attention to their impacts on humanity,” said Shieh.  “We can appreciate the scientific and technological advancements that allow us to better prepare and cope with the challenges posed by weather.”

At UH Mānoa, Shieh is investigating the factors that drive rapid intensification of tropical storms and typhoons in the western North Pacific, with an emphasis on upper-tropospheric influences. The research includes collaboration with U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, HI.

One of Shieh’s recent research projects has been focused on Typhoon Vicente (2012), the most powerful storm to strike near Hong Kong in recent years.

Typhoon Vicente

Typhoon Vicente. By NOAA/ NRL Monterey Marine Meteorology Division, via Wikimedia Commons.

“I discovered that variations in upper-tropospheric winds may have had important implications to the storm’s rapid intensification,” Shieh said.  “A somewhat subtle feature—an ‘inverted’ trough in the upper-troposphere—that passed through the north side of the storm seemed to have caught forecasters off guard.”  The enhanced divergence associated with the passage of this trough in the air above the storm is what Shieh believes contributed to the storm’s intensification and destructive force.  As Vicente ramped up, its maximum sustained winds increased from 50 knots (58 mph) to 115 knots (132 mph) within 15 hours, far exceeding established thresholds for the ‘rapid intensification’ of a tropical cyclone.

UH Mānoa’s meteorology department is mainly focused on weather and climate of the tropical Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions. In addition to research on global climate variability, much of its research is directly related to improving short-term weather forecasts for the Hawaiian Islands, and includes developing high-resolution experimental forecasts for the entire State of Hawaii and specialized forecasts for the use of astronomers operating the world renowned observatories on Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawai‘i.  The National Weather Service’s Honolulu Forecast Office is located on the UH Mānoa campus.

Owen Shieh

Owen Shieh at a FEMA training workshop

Shieh’s personal fascination with weather and storms began at an early age in Florida, where he frequently experienced the wrath of tropical storms and severe weather. He studied atmospheric science at Cornell University and earned his MS in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma.  Shieh moved to Hawaii in 2010 to pursue his PhD.

While he is finishing his doctoral research, Shieh is working full-time as the Weather and Climate Program Coordinator at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC), which is part of UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences.  At NDPTC, Shieh oversees the development of FEMA-certified hazardous weather training courses that will be deployed across the United States.

Shieh says that his personal vision is to build national resilience to natural hazards by enhancing a “whole community” discourse that combines scientific research, operational forecasting, emergency management training, public policy and public awareness.

Learn more about TEDxHonolulu at http://tedxhonolulu.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/tedxhonolulu.  The event will take place on Saturday, November 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  General Admission tickets are $85.

About the Meteorology Department

Meteorology has been an academic discipline at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa for over 50 years. The department has built an enviable national and international reputation for research and education, offering both undergraduate (B.S.) and graduate (M.S. and Ph.D.) degree programs. Since 1965 the University has been a member of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.  The meteorology department is part of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

About the College of Social Sciences

The College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa is engaged in a broad range of research endeavors that address fundamental questions about human behavior and the workings of local, national and international political, social, economic and cultural institutions. Its vibrant student-centered academic climate supports outstanding scholarship through internships, and active and service learning approaches to teaching that prepare students for the life-long pursuit of knowledge.

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