Undergrad research: climate change likely to cause more, longer lasting rain

For as long as she can remember, Kayla White knew she would become a scientist.

“I have always been fascinated by the natural beauty of the planet and the biology that inhabits it, including us, and how everything on the planet is related,” said White, who is from Dallas, Texas and graduated in May with her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Global Environmental Science (GES) program. “I grew up watching nature documentaries and reading National Geographic magazines.”

After learning how interconnected all of Earth’s systems are and learning about the climate system as a whole, White became particularly interested in humans’ impact on the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial environment and climate. This led her to the GES program in UH Mānoa’s Department of Oceanography, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

For her GES senior thesis research, White worked with SOEST Atmospheric Sciences assistant professor Giuseppe Torri to develop a computer model of clouds so they could simulate the effects of climate change on cloud formations. Specifically, they assessed how changing the sea surface temperature around a flat or mountainous island would impact clouds and subsequent rain.

“We found that as sea surface temperature increases, rainfall rate and cloud formations increase, and increase the most in the middle of the islands,” said White. “Furthermore, with warmer sea surface temperatures, rainfall lasts later into the evening and night time than before. This shows that with increasing sea surface temperatures due to climate change, large islands in the Maritime Continent, and more generally, across the Pacific, could see increased rainfall and clouds that last longer.”

Starting this fall, White will continue her education with fully funded tuition and stipend at the University of Texas as she pursues a doctoral degree in Geological Sciences with a focus in climate and environmental science. 

“All of us in GES and SOEST are very proud of Kayla’s accomplishments while at UHM and we look forward to seeing her contributions during graduate school and beyond,” said Michael Guidry, chair of the GES program.

More on the GES program

The GES program trains passionate and high-quality students to be knowledgeable in Earth-system science and to think creatively about the challenges facing communities and natural resources now and in the future.  As a GES degree requirement, each student is guided by a faculty mentor and performs original scientific research, writes a research thesis and presents their findings publicly. Mentors include SOEST faculty, global leaders in the fields of ocean, earth and space science, as well as technology. Throughout the GES degree program, students are engaged in fieldwork, laboratory work, and field trips, and have access to deep ocean and coastal research vessels, SOEST’s world-class Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, and an active volcano.

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