KING ABDULLAH UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (KAUST)
IMAGE: KAUST RESEARCHERS DEVELOPED A CLIMATE MODEL IN ORDER TO PREDICT FUTURE CHANGES AFFECTING THE RED SEA. View More CREDIT: © 2020 MORGAN BENNETT SMITH
Projections of atmospheric and oceanic processes in the Red Sea provide information on the planning of sustainable megacities that are planned and built along its coast.
The Red Sea is an important natural and economic resource for the region and the world. Rapid population and industrial growth along the coast, as well as the increasing threat from global warming, have highlighted the need to build sustainable cities and maintain healthy marine ecosystems. Saudi Arabia generates almost a fifth of its income from tourism, shipping, agriculture and fishing in the Red Sea and gets 90 percent of its freshwater from desalinated seawater. These industries all rely on atmospheric and oceanic conditions, which are part of a complex climate system about which very little was previously known.
An international team led by Ibrahim Hoteit, professor of geosciences and engineering at KAUST, has combined their expertise in weather, oceans, waves, air pollution, marine ecosystems and data visualization to create a comprehensive climate modeling system for the Red Sea region, using satellite and surface observations to refine the output. “By building up expertise in a region instead of a discipline, we can understand circulation, ecosystems and climate in the Red Sea like never before,” says Hoteit.
The system, which was built on a supercomputer at KAUST, has carried out the first high-resolution oceanic and atmospheric analyzes of the region over the past 40 years, which show how natural processes in the Red Sea are related to the earth's climate. "We were surprised to see the role the Indian monsoons played in the seasonal reversal of the overturning cycle in the Red Sea," says Hoteit. "It helped explain unusual summer chlorophyll blooms in the southern Red Sea."
The modeling system can predict numerous processes, including the circulation patterns of the oceans and the atmosphere, the behavior of the marine ecosystem, the spread of air pollution, and the possible path of oil pollution. This already provides important information for science, government and industry in Saudi Arabia and supports research into biodiversity hotspots on the Red Sea, environmental policy decisions, projects for renewable energies and flood protection. For example, their reconstruction of extreme wave heights along the coast guided the design of the levee designed to protect the newly built King Abdullah Economic City.
The Hoteit team continues to improve the system's performance and expand its capabilities, with a particular focus on seasonal timescale forecasting and high spatial resolution simulations in urban environments. “We want to turn this into a user-friendly online visualization tool that will help local authorities and industry solve environmental problems in the region,” he says.