PhD opportunity "Deadly Climate Hazards Combined: Tropical Cyclones and Deadly Heat"

Might the severe risk posed by hurricanes become worse if they increasingly link with deadly heatwaves? As global temperatures rise, individual climate-driven hazards might become more intense or frequent. But, perhaps our concern should focus on entirely new or unrecognized risks caused by combinations of two or more hazards [e.g. Hillier et al, 2015], which may prove to be the most catastrophic. After all, it is events beyond human experience which are most likely to result in game changing consequences for society [Zscheischler et al., 2018]. “Black-swan” events are surprises that could not have been be anticipated (e.g. the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001), but with suitable physical understanding of the climate system it should be possible to identifying likely devastating natural hazard combinations before they first impact. This predictability renders such potential surprises “grey swan” events. Clearly, the stakes are high in detecting such emergent threats and there is strong incentive to develop plans for minimizing their impact.

This PhD project will contribute in this regard by addressing the rising grey swan hazard of deadly (humid) heat events following tropical cyclones (TCs). The supervisors’ initial work shows that this compound hazard has so far missed densely populated regions, but that good fortune looks unlikely to hold as dangerously hot weather and powerful TCs are expected to become more frequent as the climate continues to warm  [Matthews, 2018; Matthews et al., 2017; Kang and Elsner, 2015]. The possible impacts from such a hurricane-heatwave “multiplier” hazard actually unfolding cannot be overstated, given the growing dependency on air conditioning, and the mega blackouts that have followed recent major TCs [Houser and Marsters, 2018; Barreca et al., 2013] (Fig. 1).

The most sophisticated multi-hazard probabilistic risk modelling (i.e. catastrophe modelling) is in insurance [Kappes et al., 2012], with the World Bank now leading efforts to drive these expertise into the Disaster Risk Finance (DRF) community [Mitchell-Wallace et al., 2017]. This PhD will feed into that effort, contributing to pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and equipping the student with a highly-employable skill set, knowledge and experience.

For more information and contact details visit the CENTA website.

On behalf of Dr. Tom Matthews and Dr. John Hillier, Loughborough University